Travelers in the midst of the current H1N1 pandemic and flu season are taking significantly more health precautions against contracting and spreading the disease, according to a recent Harvard School of Public Health poll.
“These results are telling us that Americans are taking action, suggesting that they are getting the public health message,” said HSPH research scientist Gillian K. SteelFisher, who is the assistant director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, the HSPH research group that conducted the poll.
The survey revealed that most Americans are concerned about contracting the flu on airplanes, as opposed to other modes of transportation, such as the bus, train, or cruise ship. According to the poll, 76 percent of travelers said that they would take hand sanitizer with them on flights—a 15 percent increase from last year.
The survey also found that 81 percent of respondents would choose to sneeze into their elbow as opposed to their hands, in an increase from the 64 percent figure determined last year.
“These are important public health measures to prevent spread of disease for them and the people around them,” SteelFisher said.
More than 75 percent of travelers polled said that they would postpone or cancel their next trip if they were sick with a fever. But SteelFisher said she finds it troubling that the remaining quarter of those surveyed indicated that being sick would not change their travel plans.
“Fever, coughing, sneezing are definite symptoms of contagiousness,” SteelFisher said, adding that traveling while afflicted with symptoms merely exacerbates the spread of the disease.
Some Harvard students said that they are taking preventative measures before travelling—such as purchasing hand sanitizer and medication—to ensure their safety.
“I don’t think it hurts to be too cautious,” said Yuying Luo ’12, who will be traveling in China for three weeks. Luo said she is scheduled to receive an H1N1 vaccination.
But several students expressed only mild concern regarding the H1N1 pandemic, stating that it would not deter them from travelling.
“Whenever you travel, all kinds of things can get in the way, like food poisoning,” said Jason W. Schnier ’11, who will be visiting Israel and other parts of the Middle East over January. He added that he was not “terribly concerned” about going abroad because of the ready accessibility of hospitals in the areas he was visiting.
“People from developing countries have pretty good immune systems, so I’m not personally going to freak out over this outbreak,” said Laila Kasuri ’13, who feels that the severity of the H1N1 pandemic has been exaggerated and plans to spend her break at home in Pakistan.
The recent HSPH poll is sixth in a series of surveys conducted by the Harvard Opinion Research Program to examine public opinion regarding the H1N1 outbreak.
The first survey—which was released in May, weeks after the virus first made its appearance in the U.S.—found that nearly half of Americans were concerned that they or their family members would fall victim to the H1N1 flu.
Since then, the polls have tracked Americans’ views on the perceived risk of the virus and vaccinations.
“The most important thing is that we’re going to keep on tracking...to see how people’s experiences change as more evidence rolls out,” SteelFisher said.
—Staff writer Helen X. Yang can be reached at email@example.com