BMC Public Health 2010, 10:130 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-130
Debbie Van, Mary-Louise McLaws, Jacinta Crimmins, C.Raina MacIntyre, Holly Seale
The authors’ aim, through an online survey conducted during the peak of the pandemic, was to assess the knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of staff and students towards the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 at a major university in Sydney, Australia.
Overall, amongst other interesting findings and debating themes developed in the article, the authors suggest that universities have the potential of becoming explosive, centrifugal outbreak centres due to their large young adult population and high levels of close social contact. More effective health communication is needed as students are unlikely to adopt behaviours that are unknown to them.
Understanding of and outbreak management (self-isolation, infection control, academic continuity), is essential to minimize the impact on both the institutions and their surrounds.
Investing in online teaching resources and training during inter-pandemic periods will ensure minimal disruption to the students.
Reactions to a pandemic are prone to change in its pre-, early and mid-outbreak stages. Lessons learned regarding preparation for future outbreaks suggest the need to promote positive public health behaviours amongst students and young people.
Other interesting results include the following:
- 99.6% of the respondents were aware of the pandemic situation in Australia
- 60.4% believed it to be serious, 40.4% were “not anxious” and 23.8% reported disinterest
- 75.9% had not made any lifestyle changes and most did not adopt any specific behaviour change, 20.8% implemented the simplest health behaviour (hand hygiene)
- 60.2% were willing to comply with public health measures if requested by authorities
- Asian born respondents were more likely to believe the seriousness of the pandemic compared to respondents from other regions - hypothesized that they may have been exposed to previous infectious situations (SARS, avian influenza)
- Adoption of a specific behaviour change was linked to anxiety and origin (Asian)
- Students were more likely to attend classes if unwell compared to staff members, especially if they had an assessment or deadline (number tripled in these instances)
- Positive responses from students strongly indicate the potential/desire for expanding online teaching and learning resources for continuing education during a crisis situation
- People willing to receive the pandemic vaccine was linked to the seasonal vaccine uptake over the past three years and to their age-group
Similar behaviour patterns should be researched by public health officials within the European Union so as to promote positive public health behaviours and to minimise disruption of studies.
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