Eating steamed pears, having a soothing massage or bathing in a herbal mixture are just some of indigenous health practices used by older people to ward off or treat influenza, according to research published in the October issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
Other traditional measures discovered by nurse researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University included being rubbed with a coin, eating cheese, yoghurt and honey and having warm drinks made with ginger or lemon.
The team surveyed nine countries to find out why so many of them were failing to meet the 75 percent annual influenza vaccination rate recommended by the World Health Organization. They found that people who chose not to be vaccinated were more likely to rely on indigenous health practices - together with good general health and hand hygiene - than those who decided to be vaccinated.
The range of countries chosen by the researchers represented different cultures, healthcare financing systems and flu vaccine uptakes. Healthcare is dominated by the private sector in Indonesia and China, while Greece, Turkey and South Korea all operate a national health insurance system. The UK and Canada have national health systems funded by taxation and the health systems in Brazil and Nigeria rely heavily on the private sector.
A series of focus groups were held with vaccinated and unvaccinated older people aged 65 plus and seven countries submitted completed questionnaires providing demographic data on 172 participants.
The team looked at the attitudes of the vaccinated and unvaccinated people in each group and this provided useful clues about what had influenced their decision.
People made the decision to be vaccinated if they:
- Had experienced no, or minimal, side effects from previous vaccinations and less severe symptoms if they thought they had contracted flu after having the vaccine.
- Were influenced by what was normal practice in their country and among their circle of friends.
People who did not have the flu vaccine said they:
- Felt less convinced that the vaccine was effective after negative reports from others about its efficacy and side-effects.
- Felt that it was sufficient to take preventative measures, such as leading a healthy lifestyle, with sufficient exercise, a good diet, good hand hygiene, keeping warm and staying away from germs.
- Were more likely to trust indigenous health practices, such as special drinks, food or other traditional remedies.
Professor Pang stated "it also revealed a finding that we do not believe has been observed in previous studies: that those who distrust the vaccine's effectiveness are more likely to rely on healthy lifestyles, good hand hygiene and indigenous health practices to protect them from flu.
Seniors are also wiser to many protocols that boost immune response and increase resistance to viruses. They tend to adopt more herbs and other natural health products because they see them as valuable health-promoting aids.