Background: During the SARS pandemic in Hong Kong, panic and worry were prevalent in the community and the general public avoided staying in public areas. Such avoidance behaviors could greatly impact daily routines of the community and the local economy. This study examined the prevalence of the avoidance behaviors (i.e. avoiding going out, visiting crowded places and visiting hospitals) and negative psychological responses of the general population in Hong Kong at the initial stage of the H1N1 epidemic.
Methods: A sample of 999 respondents was recruited in a population-based survey. Using random telephone numbers, respondents completed a structured questionnaire by telephone interviews at the 'pre-community spread phase' of the H1N1 epidemic in Hong Kong.
Results: This study found that 76.5% of the respondents currently avoided going out or visiting crowded places or hospitals, whilst 15% felt much worried about contracting H1N1 and 6% showed signs of emotional distress. Females, older respondents, those having unconfirmed beliefs about modes of transmissions, and those feeling worried and emotionally distressed due to H1N1 outbreak were more likely than others to adopt some avoidance behaviors. Those who perceived high severity and susceptibility of getting H1N1 and doubted the adequacy of governmental preparedness were more likely than others to feel emotionally distressed.
Conclusions: The prevalence of avoidance behaviors was very high. Cognitions, including unconfirmed beliefs about modes of transmission, perceived severity and susceptibility were associated with some of the avoidance behaviors and emotional distress variables. Public health education should therefore provide clear messages to rectify relevant perceptions.