Characterizing the health and information-seeking behaviours of Ontarians in response to the Zika virus outbreak
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OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study is to describe the impact of the 2016 Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak on the health-seeking and information-seeking behaviours of Ontarians. METHODS: A timeline that included events and announcements from health agencies was constructed to describe the unfolding of the ZIKV outbreak between January 1 and September 30, 2016. In order to gain an understanding of the information and health-seeking behaviours of Ontarians, data from the following sources were collected and analyzed descriptively over time in 1-week intervals: trends in web searches, calls to a provincial telemedicine advice line, test submissions to the provincial laboratory and Zika-related media coverage. RESULTS: The World Health Organization's declaration that the ZIKV outbreak was a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) prompted a surge in media coverage peaking at 165 articles in a 1-week period. Concurrently, the frequency of Zika-related web searches was at its highest over the time period of the study, weekly telemedicine calls requesting Zika-related information were at their highest (177 calls/week) and requests for laboratory testing increased (162 patients submitting specimens/week). CONCLUSIONS: Understanding the public response to novel and re-emerging infectious disease outbreaks as they unfold has the potential to facilitate timely public messaging for disease prevention, enable resource planning and inform effective public health action.
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