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How do we handle new health risks?: risk perception, optimism, and behaviors regarding the H1N1 virus

Rudisill, Caroline (2013) How do we handle new health risks?: risk perception, optimism, and behaviors regarding the H1N1 virus. Journal of Risk Research, 16 (8). pp. 959-980. ISSN 1366-9877

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Abstract

During Autumn 2009, individuals worldwide were confronted with a new risk, the H1N1 (swine flu) virus and vaccination programs aimed at reducing this risk. We examine the hypothesis that risk perceptions for H1N1 as well as optimism about one’s own chances of contracting H1N1 vs. those of others would impact intentions to get vaccinated against the virus as well as avoidance behaviors such as avoiding air travel, public places where people gather, and those exhibiting flu-like symptoms. To examine this hypothesis, this study uses a survey of 944 residents of Great Britain taken from 2 to 8 October 2009 by Ipsos MORI, prior to the start of the National Health Service (NHS) swine flu vaccination campaign. Controlling for respondents’ personal characteristics as well as their risk perceptions for a familiar risk (food poisoning), we find that higher perceptions about the risk of H1N1 for oneself, trust in the NHS, avoiding those with flu-like symptoms, and having an at-risk condition for H1N1 are all significant and positive predictors of intent to vaccinate against the virus. While 42% of the sample exhibited optimism about their personal risk of contracting H1N1 relative to that of the average UK resident, optimism did not predict vaccination intentions, or avoidance behaviors. Higher risk perceptions for oneself regarding susceptibility to H1N1 as well as knowing friends who have had H1N1 and having an at-risk condition for H1N1 were associated with undertaking avoidance behaviors in general and a higher number of them. We conclude that for a risk about which individuals have limited reference points and great uncertainty because of the new nature of the risk, optimism does not influence the likelihood of associated preventive or avoidance behaviors as individuals rely on their risk perceptions only about themselves.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rjrr20
Additional Information: © 2013 Taylor & Francis
Library of Congress subject classification: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Research centres and groups > LSE Health
Rights: http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/usingTheLibrary/academicSupport/OA/depositYourResearch.aspx
Funders: Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2013 09:26
URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/48666/

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