How lay people make sense of successively emerging influenzas?

April 2014
Taiwan Journal of Publich Health / Taiwan Gong Gong Wei Sheng Za;Apr2014, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p185
Academic Journal
Objectives: This study explored lay persons' cognitive responses to emergent influenzas. Methods: Using a maximum variation sampling design, 25 participants were selected and subjected to in-depth interviews. Qualitative data were analyzed following a cross-case approach through which the main themes were extracted inductively. Results: We identified three main themes from the analysis: meanings derived from flu names, connotative knowledge beyond names, and information impact during intensive epidemics. After coming into contact with several "new" influenzas named for flu viruses and subtypes, some participants considered them to be one single undifferentiated disease entity. Others assigned meaning to each name designated by the form of HxNy, and considered them distinctive in terms of source of infection, severity, and time of emergence. Zoonotic transfer has gradually become recognized as a source of disease transmission. Participants also had a tendency to generalize other emerging respiratory infectious diseases such as SARS as members of a big flu family. Of greater importance, as a result of successive contacts with several flu epidemics, these participants became aware of the existence of a type of germ other than bacteria - viruses. Parallel to recurrent epidemics are prevention fatigue and information overload caused by intensive exposure to flu-related communications. Conclusions: Lay people's initial grasp of new influenzas came from "seeing" their names. This idiosyncratic re-construction of knowledge cannot be judged simply by contemporary scientific standards. The gradually shaped lay knowledge and behavioral reactions in response to emergent influenzas should be closely investigated. Only by doing so can we develop effective programs for influenza control.


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