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Young people most fearful of infectious disease outbreaks this winter

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Younger people are most concerned about new outbreaks of illnesses such as COVID-19 and flu this winter, new research has found.

Research released today (Tuesday 4 October) show that, despite being statistically less likely to develop serious illness, those aged 16 to 34 are far more fearful of a new outbreak than older generations – suggesting that the mental scars of the pandemic are most severe among the young.  

The study, conducted by the Champs Public Health Collaborative – a public health partnership between nine local authorities across Cheshire and Merseyside – revealed how 29% of 16 to 34-year-olds surveyed said they are ‘very concerned’, compared with only 18% of over 65s.  

Those from an ethnic minority background were also found to be ‘very concerned’ about future outbreaks, with around a third (33%) highlighting their feelings. Just 23% of those white British people surveyed felt the same.

Overall, more than two thirds of people living across the region are worried about the spread of infectious diseases this winter.

Now, health chiefs are calling on the public to remember that such measures as hand washing, sanitising surfaces, keeping distance when unwell and covering sneezes or coughs, are crucial to help reduce the spread this winter ahead of a new campaign, Simple Things.

Dr Paul Fitzsimmons, Medical Director at Warrington and Halton NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It might seem surprising that those who are statistically less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19 and other winter illnesses are most concerned about outbreaks. But we know that disruption to education and social lives, plus the negative mental health impacts of lockdown, have clearly left a lasting mark on our younger generations who are now fearful of what could happen again.

“As we approach winter – and the annual spike in cases of flu, measles and COVID-19 – this highlights the need for all of us to take the steps that can help to reduce the spread.

“For the last two winters, we have all been on high alert for COVID and have changed our behaviours to help make sure we stay safe – in fact, we have seen a reduction in the number of cases of other winter respiratory illnesses, such as flu, largely due to our improved health habits. As such, it’s essential that we maintain this level of awareness and continue to practice good preventative hygiene as much as possible.

“We know that these small preventative measures can make a big difference – we’re encouraging everyone to keep doing these simple things to play their part and help reduce the spread of winter illnesses.”

The study, which was conducted among more than 1,000 people living across the region, also revealed how people were most likely to trust health advice from local clinicians.

Among the Collaborative’s findings, mental health was also highlighted as a driver for people’s concerns, with 38% of people saying COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health.

Margaret Jones, Director of Public Health for Sefton Council, said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned the importance of doing the simplest of simple things can help keep us safe and well.

“While many of us are still very much aware of the importance of measures like hand washing and sanitising surfaces, they’re no longer at the very top of our minds like they once were.

“Of course, it’s not just COVID-19 we want to protect ourselves against, so we’re hoping that Sefton residents will back our campaign to remind everyone that it’s still important to take these steps to reduce the spread and that these simple things do still mean a lot.”

For more information about the Simple Things campaign, visit: www.simplethings-nhs.com

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