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Young people less likely to visit doctor for COVID-19, flu, RSV symptoms, U. research finds

Katherine Ognyanova, an associate professor in the Department of Communication, recently co-authored a study revealing that, despite higher rates of respiratory disease, young people experiencing fever and cough visit medical professionals at lower rates. – Photo by Pixabay / Pexels

In February, researchers from Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Northwestern University, Northeastern University, University of Rochester and Rutgers, published a study outlining how people of different social demographics contact medical professionals regarding COVID-19 and flu symptoms.

The Daily Targum spoke about the project with Katherine Ognyanova, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and an author of the study.

She said that the project originated out of an initiative she led called the COVID States Project, which initially focused on public perception and actions in regards to the pandemic. Over time, she and her team broadened its scope to examine communication and health, which evolved into the Civic Health and Institutions Project in 2023.

She said that the study sourced its data from an online survey conducted from Dec. 21, 2023 to January 29. The survey observed 30,460 individuals aged 18 years or older in the U.S. and leveraged demographic quotas and weights to capture a representative sample.

"The project collects large-scale public opinion data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia," Ognyanova said. "We do regular polls, providing opportunities for researchers to submit questions they want to study."

She said that their research focused on monitoring the occurrence of flu-like illnesses, which are typically characterized by a fever and cough, particularly as respiratory ailments surge during the winter.

Ognyanova said that when respondents were asked whether they encountered such symptoms, their research found that 10 percent of Americans reported experiencing those symptoms in the past two months. Over the same period, 28 percent of Americans tested for COVID-19, and 6 percent received positive results.

She said that their research concluded that younger individuals exhibited a higher likelihood of contracting respiratory diseases, and among those who reported being sick, 34 percent visited a health professional.

She also said that increased age, income and education were associated with a greater tendency to seek medical care when displaying symptoms of illness.

She said that it is important for health and government officials to promote vaccination against both COVID-19 and the flu, particularly as respiratory diseases tend to peak at similar times of year.

Additionally, she said that older adults have the option to receive vaccination against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can help prevent certain RSV-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, Ognyanova cited comprehensive guidelines outlined by the CDC to prevent transmission of viral respiratory illnesses.

"It is important for members of the Rutgers community to know how to protect themselves and others against respiratory viruses," Ognyanova said. "Vaccines are widely available and very effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and the flu."

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