Questions and concerns voiced by social media users during a recent CDC live Twitter chat on Zika virus infection often revolved around the pathogen’s virology, its consequences on infant health and guidance on how best to prevent or avoid transmissions, according to a recent text analysis.
Retweets from the CDC generally responded to many of the same topics and often included additional educational materials; however, the public health organization did not appear to respond to specific inquiries on the safety of infants and pregnant women, according to Elizabeth M. Glowacki, MA, PhD candidate at the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas, and colleagues.
“Looking at social media forums like Twitter gives us up-to-date information about the public’s reaction to a health issue like the Zika virus, and allows health institutions like the CDC to disseminate timely information to a large audience,” Glowacki told Infectious Disease News. “This is helpful for health communication researchers, care providers and health promoters because a live Twitter chat can allow individuals in those professions to identify what the public perceives as important, and to then implement an action plan based on that information.”
On Feb. 12, CDC invited Twitter users to submit Zika-related questions on the virus’ spread within the United States. To examine common themes, Glowacki and colleagues captured user tweets and CDC retweets containing the “#CDCchat” tag. The researchers used text mining software to parse and analyze the contents of each message, and read over each individual tweet and retweet to categorize the message by relevant topic.
Elizabeth M. Glowacki
The most prevalent topics tweeted by the public, in order of frequency, included Zika’s virology and transmission mechanisms; Zika’s connection to microcephaly and infant health; travel precautions and methods to prevent Zika’s spread; safe-to-use insect repellents; sexual transmission; and Zika symptoms and diagnosis.
“The public seemed to want answers about effective prevention methods, the amount of time the virus remains in the body and implications for pregnant women and their newborns,” Glowacki said.
Retweets from the CDC also focused on many of these topics, but included links to educational materials, encouragement to report potential cases and a smaller question-and-answer session with a CDC expert. Responses to concerns about the health of newborns and pregnant women, however, did not match the frequency of user inquiries.
This lack of agreement could suggest a failure of the CDC to properly address Twitter users’ concerns, or could be an effort to redirect the conversation and avoid becoming diverted by “fear-ridden tweets,” the researchers wrote.
“A clinician can help alleviate some of this concern by talking with women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant about best practices for avoiding infection and identifying potential symptoms,” Glowacki said. – by Dave Muoio
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.