The more the better? A comparison of the information sources used by the public during two infectious disease outbreaks

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Abstract

© Copyright: 2015 Jardine et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Recent infectious disease outbreaks have resulted in renewed recognition of the importance of risk communication planning and execution to public health control strategies. Key to these efforts is public access to information that is understandable, reliable and meets their needs for informed decision-making on protective health behaviours. Learning from the trends in sources used in previous outbreaks will enable improvements in information access in future outbreaks. Two separate random-digit dialled telephone surveys were conducted in Alberta, Canada, to explore information sources used by the public, together with their perceived usefulness and credibility, during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic (n = 1209) and 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic (n = 1206). Traditional mass media were the most used information sources in both surveys. Although use of the Internet increased from 25% during SARS to 56% during H1N1, overall use of social media was not as high as anticipated. Friends and relatives were commonly used as an information source, but were not deemed very useful or credible. Conversely, doctors and health professionals were considered credible, but not consulted as frequently. The use of five or more information sources increased by almost 60% between the SARS and H1N1 surveys. There was a shift to older, more educated and more affluent respondents between the surveys, most likely caused by a decrease in the use of landlines amongst younger Canadians. It was concluded that people are increasingly using multiple sources of health risk information, presumably in a complementary manner. Subsequently, although using online media is important, this should be used to augment rather than replace more traditional information channels. Efforts should be made to improve knowledge transfer to health care professionals and doctors and provide them with opportunities to be more accessible as information sources. Finally, the future use of telephone surveys needs to account for the changing demographics of the respondents accessed through such surveys.

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Jardine, C. G., Boerner, F. U., Boyd, A. D., & Driedger, S. M. (2015). The more the better? A comparison of the information sources used by the public during two infectious disease outbreaks. PLoS ONE, 10(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0140028

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