'Fuzzy' virus: indeterminate influenza biology, diagnosis and surveillance in the risk ontologies of the general public in time of pandemics

Davina Lohm, Mark Davis, Paul Flowers, Niamh Stephenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


Influenza viruses are radically uncertain, leading to scientific and procedural challenges for diagnosis and surveillance and lending influenza symptoms a high degree of indeterminacy. In time of pandemic influenza, however, members of the general public are asked to enact non-pharmaceutical infection control measures such as hygiene and social distancing. Drawing on the concepts of manufactured risk and ontological insecurity, we use data from interviews and focus groups we undertook in 2011 and 2012 in Melbourne, Sydney and Glasgow, to examine how members of the general public understood the ‘fuzzy’ nature of the influenza virus and reconciled this with infection control measures. We found that participants in our research acknowledged: the difficulty of avoiding infection from influenza; impediments to accurate diagnosis and that infection control measures proposed by public health messages were compromised by the ‘fuzzy’ nature of the virus. However, we found that participants valued prevention measures, not necessarily because they were seen to be effective, but because they supplied security in the face of influenza’s uncertainties and the wider proliferation of daily and biographical risks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-131
Number of pages17
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2015


  • flu
  • H1N1 (swine influenza)
  • influenza
  • public health
  • risk
  • risk ontology

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