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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Representations of influenza and influenza-like illness in the community - a qualitative study

Christine Cedraschi12*, Laurence Saya3, Patrick Klein4, Marie-France Bordet5 and Fabrice Carrat678

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Multidisciplinary Pain Centre, Geneva University Hospitals & University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

2 Division of General Medical Rehabilitation, Geneva University Hospitals & University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

3 Altius Pharma CS, Paris, France

4 Vision Critical Communication SAS, Paris, France

5 Medical Department, Boiron, Lyon, France

6 APHP, Hôpital Saint-Antoine, Unité de santé publique, F-75012, Paris, France

7 UPMC Université Paris 06, UMR-S 707, F-75012, Paris, France

8 INSERM U707, F-75012, Paris, France

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BMC Family Practice 2013, 14:15  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-14-15

Published: 24 January 2013



There is little information regarding lay-people's representations of influenza and influenza-like illness in their day-to-day lives. An insight into these views may aid our understanding of community attitudes regarding official recommendations for its prevention.


This was a qualitative research. Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with 40 French participants from the community, and from five different locations. Questions elicited the participants' representations of onset of flu and influenza-like illness, as well as their views on what can/should be done to deal with symptoms and their personal experience with flu and flu-like symptoms.


Thematic content analyses allowed us to identify five main themes: the presence of a clear continuum between influenza-like illness and flu; a description of flu as a very contagious disease; flu as being benign, except in "frail people", which the respondents never considered themselves to be; interruption of daily activities, which could be considered pathognomonic for influenza for most subjects; self-medication as the main current practice, and requests for healthcare mainly to confirm an auto-diagnosis.


There was a large homogeneity in the representation of flu. There was also a gap between people's representations (i.e., a continuum from having a "cold" to having "influenza") and scientific knowledge (i.e., a distinction between "true" influenza and influenza-like illnesses based on the existence of a confirmatory virological diagnosis). This gap raises issues for current campaigns for flu prevention, as these may not be congruent with the representation of flu being responsible for interrupting daily activities while also being seen as a non-severe disease, as well as the perception that flu is only a risk to "frail people" though no participants considered themselves to be "frail".