News Stories

When Getting Sick is a Roll of the Dice

This year's flu season has been declared an "epidemic:" with 41 states reporting widespread and severe outbreaks of flu this season, researchers are wondering why less than half of the American population has gotten a flu shot. Due to the way the flu virus mutates, this year's vaccine is only 62% effective, but that's better than nothing!

Despite widespread knowledge that a vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances of catching and spreading the flu, even three of the four main anchors on a popular morning TV show recently admitted they had not gotten a flu shot (until they did so live on the air).

Using an online computer game that simulates the spread of an infectious disease among its players, researchers learned more about what motivates people to protect themselves from infection--from the flu to whooping cough--and what motivates them NOT to.

Economist Fred Chen says, "Some people are very risk tolerant and some are super risk averse. Our research shows that to prevent an epidemic, there is a need to tailor a menu of options for different kinds of people."

The multiplayer game simulates an epidemic among the players over several weeks. At the beginning of each day of the game, healthy players have the option to choose, at a cost, a protective action that reduces the likelihood of getting infected.

Economist Amanda Griffith says, 'We can't do in real life what we can do in the game.We can't give some people treatment and others not. The game gave us a way to conduct an experiment on behavior that could never be done in real life."

Chen says, "Players were rolling the dice to see if they could stay healthy without paying the costs of protection. But even those players who were more inclined to take risks chose to self-protect the more often they got sick.

"The results can be applied to many illnesses from the common cold to sexually transmitted diseases, where there are costs, financial or otherwise, to taking a preventative measure. For example, in the face of an outbreak of flu, preventative costs might include a fear of negative side effects from taking a vaccination, a fear of needles, lost pay for time away from work, the gas cost of driving to a flu shot center and the time spent waiting in line for a vaccination as well as, for some, the cost of the vaccination itself."

The study shows that to reduce disease prevalence, policies that reduce the cost of self-protection can be helpful, such as offering paid time off for employees who get flu shots or providing free flu shots onsite.

They had to play a game to realize this? Some things should be obvious, like the fact that if you want this wonderful (we think so, anyway, and so do thousands of readers) website to continue, you need to SUPPORT us. We've got treats for you if you do: A FREE tote bag for new one-year subscribers and a FREE crop circle calendar for new two-year subscribers (just in time for the new year!--NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show).

OK. 62% is not high enough for me when the probability of getting sick from the flu shot is higher. That's my 1st reason for not getting one. The second is based on experiences I had in the 70's after Jimmie Carter took office and experiments I was subjected to when I was in the army. After Barak Obama took office there was an eerily similar incident involving flu vaccine. I beleive that the pharma company that makes the flu vaccines had something to do with both of those men getting elected. I do not trust government mandates as it is obvious that there is less concern for the health of the population than for lining someone's pocket.

When I was 10 I had the Hong Kong flu and it was very bad, and I survived it. It never occured to my mother to take me to a doctor as it was a known virus, what could the doctor do? The article does take into account different people's fear levels and that is what is the motivator. What do you fear most?

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