Zika Virus-Related News Coverage and Online Behavior, United States, Guatemala, and Brazil
Southwell, B. G. et al.
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News coverage of emerging infectious diseases tends to be episodic and ephemeral rather than thematic, comprehensive, and consistent over time, in part because of newsroom constraints (1–3). Public health authority announcements may help drive peaks in coverage and warrant attention, in particular given the importance of trust and credibility for information acceptance (4,5). Moreover, online search behavior and social media interaction tend to respond to news coverage, especially for novel health issues (6,7). The nature of Zika virus transmission as a novel phenomenon not completely understood by researchers could encourage anxiety and fear among the public (8,9). Patterns of social interaction and search behavior regarding Zika virus can point to opportunities and constraints for education efforts. To assess relationships between news coverage, social media mentions, and online search behavior regarding Zika virus, we studied data available for January 1–February 29, 2016. Although news outlets occasionally covered Zika virus before 2016, our selected period included prominent announcements. For example, on January 28, the World Health Organization declared that Zika virus was “spreading explosively” (10), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel alert. On February 3, authorities reported the first case that appeared in the United States.