How To Prevent Flu Spreading: Stay Inside And Watch TV, Say Scientists

Vaccinations provide an effective form of response in the face of a flu outbreak, but there may be a far more simple way to halt illness.

Staying inside and avoiding social activity is an effective way of preventing infections diseases like swine flu from spreading, according to researchers.

A day in front of the TV could actually benefit your health.

The scientists from the University of California, Arizona State University, Georgia State University and Yale University looked at a case study from 2009 to draw their conclusions.

In 2009, a new strain of A/H1N1 influenza virus, or swine flu, was confirmed in Mexico. The federal government put 'social distancing' measures in place in Mexico City, such as closing schools.

Lead author of the study economist Michael Springborn, from the Univeristy of California, said in a statement: "The swine flu outbreak that hit Mexico City in April 2009 could have been worse, but spread of the virus was reduced by people's behavioural response of distancing themselves from each other."

Springborn and his colleagues looked at TV viewing data as it can provide a good indicator for the level of social interaction people are undertaking.

Time spent watching television generally increases with time spent at home. When people are home, they are limiting the number of contacts they make.

"We found that the behavioral response to the outbreak was initially strong but waned sooner than expected," Springborn said.

"This dynamic is interpreted as a 'rebound effect'. At the onset of a flu outbreak, the public responds strongly to the directed control policies. After a prolonged period of staying indoors people began to spend less time in the confines of their homes."

He added that although the evidence suggests social distancing policies help prevent the spread of disease initially, they may have a limited window of efficacy, before pent-up demand for activities outside the home takes precedence.

The researchers say their result could have implications for management advice in the future, including the allocation of resources between pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions.

They added that it's important to remember that other behaviors, such as washing hands and wearing face masks, could contribute and should be routine in order to reduce transmission.

Previous studies have said engaging in vigorous exercise can help us protect ourselves against flu, although it is not yet clear whether or not this is because people who exercise regularly tend to be healthier in general.

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