Preventing the Flu: Vaccination Seen as Less Important than Rest, Hand Washing, Diet, Appropriate Dress

Door knobs and handles, cell phones seen as objects holding most germs

Dec 09, 2015, 05:05 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Dec. 9, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- As the holidays are fast approaching, another season is gearing up to make an appearance as well, though it brings with it a little less joy. Flu season is nearly here and almost one third of all adults (32%) do not think that having a flu shot will help them avoid getting the flu. In fact, less than half (43%) agree strongly that flu shots will help them avoid it. On top of that, many people seem not to worry about the flu at all. Over four in ten (42%) adults believe than "people take the flu season too seriously." These findings help to explain why a majority of the public did not get flu shots before or during previous flu seasons.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,225 U.S. adults surveyed online between October 14 and 19, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

Avoiding the flu
When it comes to the avoidance game, Americans have a few key plays in mind. Majorities of adults agree strongly that the following can help them avoid getting sick during the flu season:

  • Washing hands frequently (69%),
  • Being well rested (63%), and
  • Maintaining a healthy diet (54%).

Almost half (48%) believe strongly that dressing appropriately for the weather will help them do this, while substantial minorities feel strongly that getting a flu shot (43%), taking vitamins (37%), and using hand sanitizers (37%) will help them to avoid getting ill.

  • Older Americans (those 70 or over), who are especially vulnerable to the flu, are the most likely to strongly believe in the effectiveness of flu vaccines (75% Matures vs. 47% Baby Boomers, 35% Gen Xers & 33% Millennials) and the least likely to feel the same about homeopathic remedies (8% vs. 14%, 18% & 29%, respectively).

In addition, almost one in five adults (19%) strongly believe that homeopathic remedies will help them. It's worth noting that many "somewhat" believe each of these options will help them avoid the flu.

There may be a few key things to keep away from on the path to flu avoidance as well. Half (51%) of adults say they limit their contact with children during the flu season and 35% avoid public transportation. When it comes to germ-ridden objects, doors – and their knobs and handles – (32%) top the list of things Americans believe are most likely to hold germs, far ahead of phones (19%), toilets and toilet handles (5%), remote control devices (4%), sponges (4%), and money (4%).

Dealing with the flu
What people want and expect if they do get the flu varies. Over eight in ten (81%) adults "just want to be left alone." While 66% try to "tough it out" and keep going to work, contrary to CDC recommendations that those sick with flu-like symptoms stay home and avoid human contact. Meanwhile, 40% expect to be pampered by their spouse or family members.

A lot of things are seen as essential when dealing with the flu. Majorities say that all of the following are "must-haves": tissues (75%), hand soap (64%), cough drops/throat lozenges (58%), cold medicine (54%), cough medicine (53%), pain reliever (53%) and vitamin C (51%). Almost half (49%) also see hand sanitizers as essential.

When it comes to the best time to use fever reducers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to treat the flu or flu-like symptoms, the results vary. While some will take drugs at any temperature above normal (20%), 21% treat between temperatures of 100 to 100.9 degrees and 24% use them when they reach 101 to 101.9 degrees. This means that by the time a fever nears 102 degrees, below which doctors routinely suggest letting the fever run its course – and do its job – in healthy adults, more than six in ten have already taken steps to bring it down. Relatively few wait until their temperatures reach 102 degrees or higher (14%), while 13% don't use them at all.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between October 14 and 19, 2015 among 2,225 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #79, December 9, 2015
By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman Emeritus, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, please visit our new website,

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