Leading medical experts have cautioned about the risk of inappropriate behavioural responses as a result of fear of avian influenza (bird flu) even before a pandemic emerges, and have emphasised the need for appropriate risk communication strategies. There is a paucity of in-depth qualitative research into the general public's understanding of, and reactions to, such potential health crises. Four focus groups were conducted in April 2006 and a further eight focus groups in July 2006, to examine people's knowledge, beliefs and behaviours in relation to avian influenza, with the primary aim being to inform the development of future communication strategies. It was clear from the focus groups that avian influenza is not a disease the participants perceive they are likely to acquire; it was not simply that Australia was far from mind when thinking of avian influenza, but that they also saw Australia as a haven protected from avian influenza. We found that, in general, participants see avian influenza as yet another example of media sensationalism - not as a disease that poses any real risk to Australia - and are clearly unprepared for a potential outbreak. Governments and health authorities should conduct further research to understand consumer perceptions of avian (or other pandemic) influenza, and attitudes towards the recommended protective behaviours, in order to pro-actively develop communication strategies to rapidly inform the public and encourage appropriate behavioural responses in the event that the potential risk is realised.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/sjones/61/