Companies flogging cold and flu treatments may be encouraging the spread of infections because their advertising is encouraging people to soldier on, rather than keeping themselves and their viruses tucked away at home.
So says Dr Harry Hemley, president of the Australian Medical Association Victoria. He writes:
“I’m getting increasingly irritated by direct to consumer advertising for cold and flu treatments. These companies are encouraging the spread of infection throughout the community with possibly devastating consequences.
Every winter we are bombarded with advertisements from consumer healthcare companies telling us to abandon common sense and continue with or regular, fast-paced lives when we have a nasty cold or the flu. There’s no need to take a sick day, we’re told, when you can just pop a pill and get back on with it.
This year we’ve got Codral telling us to ‘soldier on’ and go to work when we are sick, a Dimetapp commercial (http://www.dimetapp.com.au/tvc.html ) showing a woman with a cold or the flu swimming in a public swimming pool – potentially infecting her whole community – and characters in a Panadol cold and flu ad sneezing over each other at a public bus stop.
In a bid to sell over-the-counter medications, these consumer healthcare companies are sending harmful messages that it is acceptable and even expected that you will go to work, catch public transport, and use public amenities when you are sick.
After so many winters of consumer healthcare advertising telling us to go to work when we are sick, the message has become entrenched in our workplace culture. I’ve heard of some workplaces where there’s competition to be the ‘toughest’ and hold out the longest on taking a sick day.
Last year’s swine flu pandemic showed us just how easily viruses can sweep through our communities.
Most healthy people recover from the flu without any problems and just need to take some time out to recuperate. However, influenza kills hundreds of Australians each year. H1N1 09 showed that influenza has a greater reach than we had anticipated, with hundreds of younger people ending up in intensive care.
Companies that encourage people to go to work, catch public transport and use public amenities when they are ill, are acting irresponsibly. “Soldiering on” with flu could leave some serious casualties in the community.
Consumer healthcare companies will no doubt keep extending their advertising budgets to tell us to take cold and flu medication and soldier on when we’re sick, but workplaces and communities can do their part by encouraging people to do the more sensible thing – rest, recover and avoid infecting others.”