A cross-sectional study was conducted at the height of the pandemic influenza H1N1/09 outbreak in Australia in 2009. The objectives of the study were to evaluate public perceptions about transmission and prevention of the disease, to understand their concerns and preparedness to cope with the disease, and to investigate drivers influencing their behaviour. A questionnaire was designed and administered to 510 customers visiting 15 butcher shops in the Greater Sydney region between 26th June and 2nd August 2009. Data were analysed to estimate the proportion of people with certain perceptions and to evaluate the influence of these perceptions on two binary outcome variables: (1) whether or not people believed that avoiding pork would protect them from contracting H1N1/09, and (2) whether or not they actually made some changes to pork consumption after the outbreak. A majority of the respondents had perceptions based on fact about transmission and prevention of H1N1/09. As many as 96.8% of the respondents believed that washing their hands frequently was likely to protect them from contracting H1N1/09. Similarly, most believed that they could contract H1N1/09 by travelling on public transport with a sick person present (94.1%), by shaking hands with a sick person (89.2%), or by attending a community gathering (73.7%). Women were more likely than men to have factual perceptions about protective behaviours. Misconceptions regarding transmission of the disease were evident, with 21.7% believing that avoiding eating pork could protect them against H1N1/09, 11.1% believing that they could contract H1N1/09 by drinking tap water, 22.8% by handling uncooked pork meat and 15.6% by eating cooked pork. Approximately one third of respondents believed that working in a pig farm or an abattoir increased their likelihood of contracting H1N1/09 (36.9% and 32.3%, respectively). Younger people (<35 years old) were more likely to have these misconceptions than older people. Reduction in consumption of pork, ham or bacon was significantly associated with misconceptions regarding the risk of contracting H1N1/09 from eating pig meat products. It is recommended that in the event of a future disease emergency, communication activities providing factual information and targeting younger people should be used.
Bibliographical noteErratum can be found in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, Volume 107(1-2), 146,