A website that has proven successful in reducing infection transmissions for seasonal and swine flu has been adapted in response to coronavirus.

Researchers from the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Southampton hope the redevelopment of the Germ Defence website will help change people’s behaviours and cut infections.

The site draws on behaviour change techniques to provide a plan for users to reduce their exposure of Covid-19 and viral load within the home. This is particularly important to reduce infection when one member of a household has left and returned again, the researchers say.

‘Germ Defence’ draws on behaviour change techniques to help users think through and adopt better home hygiene and stronger infection control. Developed by health experts and psychologists, previous research into its effectiveness, involving a study of over 20,000 people, found that users of the site were less likely to catch flu or other viruses; and if they did become ill, on average, their illnesses were shorter and milder.

By working through a series of questions and scenarios, users on the site get a tailor-made plan to reduce their exposure to COVID-19 and viral load within the home. The team say this is particularly important to reduce infection when one member of a household has left and returned again.

Important home hygiene suggestions offered to users on the site include:

  • Leaving packages and deliveries for up to 72 hours before opening them to reduce the risk of infection from the disease being passed on surfaces;
  • Regularly disinfecting surfaces in the home. This is seen as particularly important in view of the latest SAGE evidence on just how long the virus can live on hard surfaces;
  • Instilling better hygiene measures between household members, in particular in families, for example by not sharing common household items like towels.

Questions take around 10 minutes to complete, but the answers can make a lasting and lifetime impact on users, say the researchers behind it.

Dr Ben Ainsworth from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath explains: “We know that COVID-19 is caught in the same way as other viruses. Germ Defence provides advice on how you can protect yourself using the same methods that have worked for other viruses.

“It only takes around 10 minutes to go through the information – but it could help protect you from coronavirus, as well as offer you a lifetime of fewer colds and flu. It may take a bit of practice for you and your family to use the ideas on Germ Defence. But once you have learnt them, they will become habits that you’ll do easily which will protect you from becoming ill.”

Professor Lucy Yardley, theme lead for the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at the University of Bristol, added: “Most people think that if a family member gets ill then it is just a matter of luck whether other people in the household get infected. But our team has shown that the people who follow the Germ Defence advice get fewer and less severe infections – and so do the people they live with.

“We hope the app will save lives by helping people avoid spreading coronavirus to family members.”


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