Public health messages can influence infectious disease stigmas

Crafting public health messages about a disease may create stigmas that influence how likely people are to endorse certain interventions, such as isolating infected persons, forcing treatment on them and mapping their location, according to a Penn State researcher. Rachel Smith, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and investigator with the University's Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, used a hypothetical disease—a virus carried by rodents—to develop 16 different health alerts describing the virus and those who were infected. The alerts, based on an existing alert developed by the Centers for Disease Control, indicated whether or not infected people were labeled by the disease. The alerts also indicated the disease was transmissible or not transmissible between humans; had visible symptoms (open sores on arms and a wet, loud cough) or no visible symptoms; and was fatal, painful, and caused paranoid delusions, or was mild and easy to cure.

The disease symptoms, labels associated with infected persons, perceptions of dangerousness, and responsibility comprise the four content cues in Smith's Model of Stigma Communication.

"These content cues can elicit responses such as and anger," Smith said. "They can also shape the development of stigma and influence the likelihood that people will share a stigma message with others or endorse isolating and removing stigmatized people from community." The results, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Communication Monographs and available online now, showed that those communication choices, and how they made people think and feel, predicted how likely people were to endorse interventions.

In addition, people were more likely to want to share the stigma message with others if the disease had visible symptoms rather than no visible symptoms.

"The visible symptom might suggest that infected persons are different," Smith said, "and this could facilitate social bonding among people spreading the rumor, even if infected persons are not considered a group in and of themselves."

According to Smith, understanding how message choices influence the formation of beliefs is critical.

"When stigmas form with infectious diseases, they can be barriers to health care access and provision in the short and long term," she said. "Understanding how communication choice in health messages influences the stigmatization process can give us the tools to write health alerts without creating or bolstering stigmas around . Once the stigmas are in place, we have few reliable ways to remove them."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

West Nile virus claims first victim in Kosovo

Sep 19, 2012

A woman had died of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus in Kosovo as two more patients were suspected of being infected with the disease, a health official said on Wednesday.

One dead in Serbian West Nile virus outbreak

Sep 04, 2012

An outbreak of the West Nile virus in Serbia has killed an elderly woman and infected 20 other people with the mosquito-borne disease, health officials said Tuesday.

Macedonia reports first West Nile virus fatality

Sep 20, 2012

A person infected with the mosquito-borne West Nile virus has died in Macedonia and two other people are undergoing treatment in a Skopje hospital, the health ministry said Thursday.

Recommended for you

Demographics impact family physicians' care of children

Sep 12, 2014

(HealthDay)—Demographic and geographic factors influence whether family physicians provide care for children, according to a study published in the September/October issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Estimate: 3 in 10 NFL retirees face cognitive woes (Update)

Sep 12, 2014

Nearly three in 10 former NFL players will develop at least moderate neurocognitive problems and qualify for payments under the proposed $765 million concussion settlement, according to data prepared for ex-players' lawyers ...

Physician describes impact of malpractice suit

Sep 12, 2014

(HealthDay)—A family doctor who was involved in a malpractice suit describes the impact on her practice of medicine in an article published online in the September/October issue of the Annals of Family Me ...

Report outlines 'must-have' sexual health services for men

Sep 12, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Compared with women, American men have worse access to reproductive and sexual health care, research shows, a disparity fueled in part by the lack of standard clinical guidelines on the types and timing ...

New report finds a healthy well-being among Chinese children

Sep 12, 2014

A new study of children's well-being in Shanghai finds that first-graders are socially and emotionally healthy, with most performing average or above average academically. The study, by the New York University-East China ...

User comments