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The University of Southampton

‘Germ Defence’ app receives COVID-19 priority funding

Published: 22 April 2020

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced priority funding for 'Germ Defence' - the only digital behavioural infection control intervention worldwide.

Proven to reduce the transmission of infections in the home, clinicians and researchers from the Universities of Southampton, Bristol, Bath and Public Health England will now develop the resource into a freely available worldwide app in 20 languages.

Germ Defence supplements public health advice by employing behaviour change techniques that can only be provided by an interactive app. Germ Defence helps users with: pre-planning for how to isolate an infected household member as far as possible; personalised goal setting for increasing a range of infection control behaviours; changing the home environment to support new habits and problem-solving to overcome barriers.

It is well known that the public can play a crucial role in limiting the impact of infectious disease outbreaks by adopting simple behaviours to curb the spread of infection such as handwashing, cleaning surfaces, mask wearing and social distancing),” said Professor Lucy Yardley, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Southampton and University of Bristol who leads the study.

“By slowing the spread of infection, these behaviours can prevent everyone becoming ill at once, helping healthcare systems to cope until a vaccine is developed,” Professor Yardley continued. “Despite public health advice, evidence shows most people need help to change their behaviour, to help prevent infection as much as possible.”

Germ Defence was developed during the H1N1 pandemic using theory, evidence and extensive feedback from members of the public. Germ Defence was then trialled among over 20,000 patients, and shown to reduce the number and severity of infections of users and members of their household (this trial was published in the Lancet).

The site remains the only digital behavioural infection control intervention worldwide that has been proven to reduce the transmission of infections in the home. Researchers and clinicians at the University of Southampton, University of Bath and Public Health England and patient representatives have therefore been funded by a new UKRI grant to adapt Germ Defence according to the latest evidence for the COVID-19 outbreak and make it freely available.

In the first week it was made available, Germ Defence was accessed over 13,000 times and frequently shared on social media. It is now being translated into nearly 20 languages so it can be used internationally. The funding from UKRI will allow the research team to study how best to very quickly adapt the app to meet users’ needs in different countries and to evaluate how it is used and its effects on infection control behaviour.

“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 trial of Germ Defence has shown that it is possible to protect the people you live with from also getting ill. We hope the app will save lives by helping people avoid spreading coronavirus to family members,” Professor Yardley concluded.

Germ Defence is freely available at:

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