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'Unhygienic' Britons are world's worst flu-spreaders

world Updated: Oct 05, 2012 16:03 IST

Britons take fewer basic hygiene precautions like washing hands and sneezing into a tissue against catching flu than people in other countries, a new international study has found.

The survey by Harvard School of Public Health, showed that just one in five cavalier Brits tried to keep away from people with flu-like symptoms and fewer avoided shopping centres or sporting events during the flu season.

Researchers carried out surveys in the UK, the US, Argentina, Japan and Mexico soon after the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

Around 900 people were asked how they had modified their behaviour when there was a risk of catching the virus. Britons consistently had the most careless attitude.

Flu expert Professor John Oxford, a virologist at the University of London, said the results were "terribly disappointing".

"We have a lot to learn about avoiding infection. One explanation is that we have become complacent because we think drugs will always be available but it's very likely we will get a novel infection at some stage when it will be critical to do these basic things to stop us getting it," he said.

One in four Britons questioned said that when swine flu was sweeping the UK they covered their mouth or nose with a tissue more frequently when sneezing or coughing, or used their elbow or shoulder to catch a sneeze or cough.

This compared with 61 per cent of Americans, 77% of Mexicans, 64% of Argentinians and 48% of Japanese.

Fifty-three% of Britons said they washed their hands more often, compared with 72% of US citizens, 86% of Mexicans, 72% of Japanese and 89% of Argentinians.

People from the UK were also the least willing to avoid hugging or kissing members of their family or friends during the pandemic.

Only 2% of Britons said they followed this strategy, which was adopted by 46% of Mexicans, 21% of Americans and 19% of Argentinians.

The question was not asked in Japan, where kissing is not the cultural norm.

Only one in five people in the UK tried to avoid being near someone with flu symptoms.

The study was published in The 'Lancet' medical journal.