Background Many important strategies to reduce the spread of pandemic influenza need public participation. To assess public receptivity to such strategies, we compared adoption of preventive behaviours in response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic among the public in five countries and examined whether certain non-pharmaceutical behaviours (such as hand washing) were deterrents to vaccination. We also assessed public support for related public health recommendations.
Methods We used data from simultaneous telephone polls (mobile telephone and landline) in Argentina, Japan, Mexico, the UK, and the USA. In each country, interviews were done in a nationally representative sample of adults, who were selected by the use of random digit dial techniques. The questionnaire asked people whether or not they had adopted each of various preventive behaviours (non-pharmaceutical—such as personal protective and social distancing behaviour—or vaccinations) to protect themselves or their family from H1N1 at any point during the pandemic. Two-tailed t tests were used for statistical analysis.
Findings 900 people were surveyed in each country except the USA where 911 people were contacted. There were wide differences in the adoption of preventive behaviours between countries, although certain personal protective behaviours (e.g., hand washing) were more commonly adopted than social distancing behaviours (e.g., avoiding places where many people gather) across countries (53—89% vs 11—69%). These non-pharmaceutical behaviours did not reduce the likelihood of getting vaccinated in any country. There was also support across all countries for government recommendations related to school closure, avoiding places where many people gather, and wearing masks in public.
Interpretation There is a need for country-specific approaches in pandemic policy planning that use both non-pharmaceutical approaches and vaccination.
Funding US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Public Health Information Coalition.