Background: The emergence of influenza A ("swine flu") in early 2009 led to widespread public concern. However, little research has examined the factors that underlie initial worry about infection and subsequent behavioral responses to such worry.
Purpose: This study seeks to model some key predictors of worry and behavioral responses in the early stages of the swine flu pandemic (WHO pandemic stage 5).
Method: A cross-sectional internet questionnaire study (N = 186).
Results: Twenty-five percent of respondents rated themselves as worried about being a victim of swine flu, 40% that they were worried of a family member contracting the virus. Twenty percent had bought, or intended to buy, preparatory materials (e.g., face masks), 20% intended to delay or cancel air travel. In a structural equation model, conservation values and family or friends perception of risks predicted worry about infection, while worry correlated with the purchase of preparatory materials, a lesser willingness to travel by public transport, and difficulty in focusing on everyday activities.
Conclusion: While previous research on pandemic risk perception has focused on cognitive risk judgments, our data suggests that initial "emotional" concerns about infection are also significant predictors of behavioral responses to pandemic threat. Such worry is likely to be influenced by a variety of individual factors, such as personal values, as well as normative pressures. Practitioners can use and expand on such models of pandemic response when tailoring health campaigns to meet newly emergent threats.