Patient perceptions of vulnerability to recurrent respiratory tract infections and prevention strategies: a qualitative study

Laura Dennison*, Sian Williamson, Kate Greenwell, Molly Handcock, Katherine Bradbury, Jane Vennik, Lucy Yardley, Paul Little, Adam W A Geraghty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


OBJECTIVES: Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) are extremely common, usually self-limiting, but responsible for considerable work sickness absence, reduced quality of life, inappropriate antibiotic prescribing and healthcare costs. Patients who experience recurrent RTIs and those with certain comorbid conditions have higher personal impact and healthcare costs and may be more likely to suffer disease exacerbations, hospitalisation and death. We explored how these patients experience and perceive their RTIs to understand how best to engage them in prevention behaviours.

DESIGN: A qualitative interview study.

SETTING: Primary care, UK.

METHODS: 23 participants who reported recurrent RTIs and/or had relevant comorbid health conditions were interviewed about their experiences of RTIs. Interviews took place as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Three themes were developed: Understanding causes and vulnerability, Attempting to prevent RTIs, Uncertainty and ambivalence about prevention, along with an overarching theme; Changing experiences because of COVID-19. Participants' understandings of their susceptibility to RTIs were multifactorial and included both transmission via others and personal vulnerabilities. They engaged in various approaches to try to prevent infections or alter their progression yet perceived they had limited personal control. The COVID-19 pandemic had improved their understanding of transmission, heightened their concern and motivation to avoid RTIs and extended their repertoire of protective behaviours.

CONCLUSIONS: Patients who experience frequent or severe RTIs are likely to welcome and benefit from advice and support regarding RTI prevention. To engage people effectively, those developing interventions or delivering health services must consider their beliefs and concerns about susceptibility and prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere055565
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding This article presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) Programme (Grant Reference Number RP-PG-0218-20005). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. LY is an NIHR Senior Investigator and her research programme is partly supported by NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC)-West, NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) for Behavioural Science and Evaluation and the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 BMJ Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/therapeutic use
  • COVID-19/prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Pandemics/prevention & control
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life
  • Respiratory Tract Infections/drug therapy


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