Zika pandemic online trends, incidence and health risk communication: A time trend study

Gbenga Adebayo*, Yehuda Neumark, Anat Gesser-Edelsburg, Wiessam Abu Ahmad, Hagai Levine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objectives We aimed to describe the online search trends of Zika and examine their association with Zika incidence, assess the content of Zika-related press releases issued by leading health authorities and examine the association between online trends and press release timing. Design Using Google Trends, the 1 May 2015 to 30 May 2016 online trends of Zika and associated search terms were studied globally and in the five countries with the highest numbers of suspected cases. Correlations were then examined between online trends and Zika incidence in these countries. All Zika-related press releases issued by WHO/Pan America Health Organization (PAHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the study period were assessed for transparency, uncertainty and audience segmentation. Witte's Extended Parallel Process Model was applied to assess self-efficacy, response efficacy, susceptibility and severity. AutoRegressive Integrated Moving Average with an eXogenous predictor variable (ARIMAX) (p,d,q) regression modelling was used to quantify the association between online trends and the timing of press releases. Results Globally, Zika online search trends were low until the beginning of 2016, when interest rose steeply. Strong correlations (r=0.748-0.922; p<0.001) were observed between online trends and the number of suspected Zika cases in four of the five countries studied. Compared with press releases issued by WHO/ PAHO, CDC press releases were significantly more likely to provide contact details and links to other resources, include figures/graphs, be risk-advisory in nature and be more readable and briefer. ARIMAX modelling results indicate that online trends preceded by 1 week press releases by WHO (stationary-R 2 =0.345; p<0.001) and CDC (stationary-R 2 =0.318; p=0.014). Conclusions These results suggest that online trends can aid in pandemic surveillance. Identification of shortcomings in the content and timing of Zika press releases can help guide health communication efforts in the current pandemic and future public health emergencies.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere000296
JournalBMJ Global Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017

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© Article author(s) (or their employer(s) unless otherwise stated in the text of the article) 2017. All rights reserved.


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