INTRODUCTION: Influenza vaccination can prevent influenza and potentially serious influenza-related complications. Although the single best way to prevent influenza is annual vaccination, everyday preventive actions, including good hygiene, health, dietary, and social habits, might help, too. Several preventive measures are recommended, including: avoiding close contact with people who are sick; staying home when sick; covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; washing your hands often; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and practicing other good health habits like cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, getting plenty of sleep, and drinking plenty of fluids. Understanding public acceptance and current usage of these preventive behaviors can be useful for planning both seasonal and pandemic influenza prevention campaigns. This study estimated the percentage of adults in the United States who reported practicing preventive behaviors to avoid catching or spreading influenza, and explored associations of reported behaviors with sociodemographic factors.
METHODS: We analyzed data from 2015 National Internet Flu Survey, a nationally representative probability-based Internet panel survey of the non-institutionalized U.S. population ≥18 years. The self-reported behaviors used to avoid catching or spreading influenza were grouped into four and three non-mutually exclusive subgroups, respectively. Weighted proportions were calculated. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to calculate adjusted prevalence differences and to determine independent associations between sociodemographic characteristics and preventive behavior subgroups.
RESULTS: Common preventive behaviors reported were: 83.2% wash hands often, 80.0% cover coughs and sneezes, 78.2% stay home if sick with a respiratory illness, 64.4% avoid people sick with a respiratory illness, 51.7% use hand sanitizers, 50.2% get treatment as soon as possible, and 49.8% report getting the influenza vaccination. Race/ethnicity, gender, age, education, income, region, receipt of influenza vaccination, and household size were associated with use of preventive behaviors after controlling for other factors.
CONCLUSION: Many adults in the United States reported using preventive behaviors to avoid catching or spreading influenza. Though vaccination is the most important tool available to prevent influenza, the addition of preventive behaviors might play an effective role in reducing or slowing transmission of influenza and complement prevention efforts.