Differences in Perceived Influenza Risk in a University Student Population
The CDC recommends all healthy adults receive seasonal influenza vaccine. University students belong to a demographic with lower vaccination rates despite extensive sharing of spaces known to increase transmission of airborne disease.
Starting September 2013, we recruited 741 undergraduates (35% men, 65% women) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to use our smartphone app (OutSmart Flu) to report symptoms of influenza-like illness. As part of this initiative, 566 (76.4%) users completed a baseline survey that asked about influenza knowledge, perceived susceptibility and severity of influenza, and attitudes towards hand hygiene and vaccination. Using a Health Belief Model framework, we examined these influenza risk perceptions, which are predictors of prevention practices such as vaccination and hand washing.
Men and women had different influenza risk perceptions. Men were more likely than women to report not feeling at risk for influenza [OR = 1.86, p= 0.02]. In the context of an influenza illness, as compared to women, men were more likely to believe their symptoms would not to be serious [OR = 1.65, p=0.04], that they would not need to seek medical care [OR=1.89, p=0.02], and believe symptoms would last less than a week [OR=2.13, p<0.001]. Further, men were less likely than women to believe hand washing would protect against influenza [OR=3.53, p=0.024], and more likely to find it difficult to wash their hands more often [OR=3.15, p=0.003]. We asked students to rate the priority of hand washing in each of 10 specific situations; women were more likely than men to prioritize hand washing in every case [all p<0.05]. All students incorrectly identified 11 or less seconds as a sufficient duration of proper hand washing (the CDC recommends 20 seconds). Men and women did not differ in beliefs regarding vaccine efficacy or ease of vaccine seeking. Overall, 65.0% of students surveyed reported receipt of the previous year’s seasonal flu vaccine (2012-13), and 74.5% of students believe that they have previously had the flu.
Male students may have elevated risk for influenza because their risk perceptions may lead to lower hand hygiene and vaccine uptake as compared to women. It may be important for flu prevention messaging to university students be gender-specific.
R. Gangnon, None
R. Westergaard, None
C. Roberts, None
S. Van Orman, None
A. K. Sethi, None