Public health messages can influence infectious disease stigmas

October 1, 2012

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."

Explore further: West Nile virus claims first victim in Kosovo

Related Stories

West Nile virus claims first victim in Kosovo

September 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

September 4, 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

September 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.

NIH scientists outline steps toward Epstein-Barr virus vaccine

November 2, 2011
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infects nine out of ten people worldwide at some point during their lifetimes. Infections in early childhood often cause no disease symptoms, but people infected during adolescence or young adulthood ...

Three dead in Serbian West Nile virus outbreak

September 8, 2012
Three people have died in the first ever outbreak of the West Nile virus in Serbia, in which 35 contracted the disease, health authorities said Saturday.

Hand, foot and mouth disease kills 112 in China in June

July 15, 2012
A Chinese province urged parents Sunday to seek immediate treatment for children showing symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease after official figures showed 112 people died from the illness last month.

Recommended for you

Hormone therapy in the menopause transition did not increase stroke risk

November 24, 2017
Postmenopausal hormone therapy is not associated with increased risk of stroke, provided that it is started early, according to a report from Karolinska Institutet published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

When traveling on public transport, you may want to cover your ears

November 22, 2017
The noise levels commuters are exposed to while using public transport or while biking, could induce hearing loss if experienced repeatedly and over long periods of time, according to a study published in the open access ...

Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

November 22, 2017
Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

Older men need more protein to maintain muscles

November 21, 2017
The amount of protein recommended by international guidelines is not sufficient to maintain muscle size and strength in older men, according to a new study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.