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Students not hand washing to prevent swine flu spread

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new study from North Carolina State University shows that students are not washing their hands to protect from H1N1 swine flu. Dr. Ben Chapman, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences and food safety extension specialist at NC State says, “Hand washing is a significant preventative measure for many communicable diseases, from respiratory diseases like H1N1 to foodborne illness agents, such as norovirus.” Yet, students are not hand washing - a basic preventive measure against swine flu.

The study looked at self-reporting of hand washing during an outbreak of norovirus at an Ontario university. Eighty three percent of students reported compliance with hand washing, but in reality only seventeen percent had followed recommended guidelines to prevent spread of the virus. Norovirus infects thousands of students annually, causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Dr. Chapman says even though people report hand washing more during an illness outbreak, it simply does not really happen. “The study shows that while health authorities may give people the tools we think they need to limit the spread of an outbreak, the information we’re giving them is not compelling enough to change their behavior. Basically, it doesn’t work. But we do it again with every outbreak, and we’re doing it now with H1N1.”

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In order to curb the spread of pandemic flu among students Chapman says targeted information is necessary – telling students where the nearest washroom is, and placing information pointing to hand sanitizer would be more effective to promote hand hygiene during the current H1N1 flu outbreak.

Also, getting the message across that students need to wash their hands should include language targeted to the audience - “For example, don’t refer to something as a ‘gastrointestinal illness,’” says Chapman, “instead, tell students ‘this could make you puke’ or ‘dude, wash your hands.’

He suggests using media like text messaging, and Facebook to get the message across that hand washing is the best way to prevent spread of H1N1 flu. The new study shows that students are not washing their hands to prevent spread of pandemic H1N1 swine flu, and more effective communication is needed.

NC State University Newsroom