Nav: Home

Yarraman flu or horse flu? Words and graphics influence willingness to vaccinate

June 21, 2017

"Yarraman flu is a virus quickly infecting the U.S. ...." The mock announcement was enough to make readers worry. But when the name of the hypothetical illness was changed to "horse flu", the news elicited a different reaction. Readers were not as concerned, and reported being less motivated to get a vaccine that would prevent them from contracting the illness.

Graphics, too, altered perceptions of risk. Even though each of three graphics presented the same information, colorful heat maps in which the point of outbreak blazed red consistently triggered stronger reactions than dot maps that punctuate geographical distribution of the influenza, and bar-type graphs.

Based on a survey of 16,510 participants from 11 countries, the findings show that the way health information is communicated, matters. A research collaboration between scientists at U of U Health University of Michigan, University of Iowa, and Radboud University in the Netherlands, was published as two studies: one recently in Vaccine and the second in Emerging Infectious Diseases on June 21.

"Our results highlight that choices for public communications about health issues cannot be made simply by convenience or without consideration," says Angie Fagerlin, Ph.D., chair of population health sciences at U of U Health. "If we can present information in ways that increase the public's understanding, it's a win for everybody."

Additional studies are needed to examine whether messaging can go beyond changing readers' intent to actually altering behavior, driving more people to get vaccinated during critical times.

Leading health and news organizations regularly publish reports on public health issues, including infectious disease outbreaks, bringing information to millions of people. Yet little research has been done to gauge how subtle differences in the ways in which the information is presented shapes public perception.

To investigate, the research team distributed an opt-in online survey within nine European countries, the U.K., and the U.S. Participants read a mock news article written in their primary language that described the spread of a pandemic flu within their country. They then completed a survey measuring their attitudes toward vaccination, knowledge about information in the article, and concern for contracting the flu.

Participants read the mock story with one of three random flu names and graphic visualizations. Inspired by actual disease names (ie. Spanish flu, H1N1 influenza, bird flu), the imaginary illnesses included the exotic sounding "Yarraman flu" (Yarraman is an Aboriginal word for "horse"), the scientific "H11N3 influenza", and "horse flu", named for the animal that transmits the virus. Alternatively, the article included one of three types of graphics, each showing a rise in the prevalence of influenza, and number of related deaths, over three months.

Participants who read about "horse flu" were significantly less motivated to get vaccinated compared to those who read about "Yarraman flu" or "H11N3 influenza". That same trend echoed across each of the 11 countries surveyed. Out of a 7-point scale, with the highest number meaning "definitely would get a vaccination" and the lowest indicating "definitely would not get a vaccination", the sentiment dropped from 4.66 to 4.54 (p = 0.002).

"In public health, relatively small effects can have relatively large impacts on a population level," explains first author of the flu label study, Aaron Scherer, Ph.D., from the University of Iowa.

For visuals, readers indicated they preferred heat maps, and those who used them to interpret the hypothetical outbreak said they were more likely to vaccinate than those who saw bar-type graphs (4.67 vs. 4.56, p = 0.01). Heat map viewers also thought they were more likely to get the flu, had a better grasp of the facts about the outbreak, and a greater interest in learning more.

More than that, the findings suggest that some tactics work better than others to inform health decisions. "It is incredibly important that we communicate effectively, as it has the potential to improve public health," says co-author and pulmonologist Thomas Valley, M.D., M.Sc. from the University of Michigan.
-end-
This work was supported by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration.

In addition to Fagerlin, Scherer and Valley, co-authors of both studies included Megan Knaus, Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, and Enny Das.

"Communicating infectious disease prevalence through graphics: results from an international survey" was published in Vaccine.

"Effect of Influenza Label on Worry and Behavioral Intentions: A Multi-Country Web-Based Experiment" was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

University of Utah Health

Related Influenza Articles:

Obesity promotes virulence of influenza
Obesity promotes the virulence of the influenza virus, according to a study conducted in mice published in mBio, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
Influenza: combating bacterial superinfection with the help of the microbiota
Frenc researchers and from Brazilian (Belo Horizonte), Scottish (Glasgow) and Danish (Copenhagen) laboratories have shown for the first time in mice that perturbation of the gut microbiota caused by the influenza virus favours secondary bacterial superinfection.
Chemists unveil the structure of an influenza B protein
MIT chemists have discovered the structure of an influenza B protein called BM2, a finding that could help researchers design drugs that block the protein and help prevent the virus from spreading.
How proteins help influenza A bind and slice its way to cells
Researchers have provided new insight on how two proteins help influenza A virus particles fight their way to human cells.
Eating elderberries can help minimize influenza symptoms
Conducted by Professor Fariba Deghani, Dr. Golnoosh Torabian and Dr.
Mechanism to form influenza A virus discovered
A new study by Maria João Amorim's team, from the Gulbenkian Institute of Science, now reveals where the genomes of the influenza A virus are assembled inside infected cells.
Bat influenza viruses could infect humans
Bats don't only carry the deadly Ebola virus, but are also a reservoir for a new type of influenza virus.
New VaxArray publication on influenza neuraminidase quantification
InDevR Inc. announced publication of 'A Neuraminidase Potency Assay for Quantitative Assessment of Neuraminidase in Influenza Vaccines' in npj Vaccines.
Fighting mutant influenza
Another flu season is here, which means another chance for viruses to mutate.
Influenza vaccine delays are a problem for pediatricians
Uptake of influenza vaccine among children is low compared to other childhood vaccines, and missed opportunities for vaccination play an important role in this low uptake.
More Influenza News and Influenza Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.