Can social media help translate research to practice and promote informed public health messages?

I’m a Senior Investigator with the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology – Public Health. One of our primary focuses is translating research into improved public health outcomes. With NSW Population Health and Health Services Research Support Program assisting our work, we’re exploring new ways to achieve this objective. My experience of using social media was selected to be showcased among other case studies in 2015. 


Nuisance-biting mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease are concerns for local authorities in Australia. 2015 saw the largest outbreak of mosquito-borne Ross River virus disease for more than 20 years with over 9,500 cases nationwide. In NSW, there were 1,633 cases compared to the annual average since 1993 of 742 cases per year. Notwithstanding the current outbreak, other endemic, as well as exotic, mosquito-borne pathogens represent future threats to public health.

As there is no large-scale mosquito control program in NSW, reducing the contact between mosquitoes and people is primarily achieved through the promotion of personal protection measures. NSW Health promotes the use of topical insect repellents in combination with behavioural change to avoid natural mosquito habitats and the creation of mosquito habitats around the home. This information is typically provided in the form of posters, brochures, online factsheets, and seasonal or outbreak-triggered public health messages issued by Local Health Districts or the NSW Ministry of Health.

With the emergence of new communications technologies, particularly the rise in popularity of social media, there are new opportunities for public health communications.

The aim of the current research was to determine the reach of public health messages through social media by tracking engagement, audience and relative value as assessed by media monitoring organisations and metrics provided by hosting services of social media platforms.

Assessing activities and processes

Dr Cameron Webb (CIDM-PH) has focused much attention on filling the gaps between current public health messages and findings from recent research into topical mosquito repellents.[1] For example, while public health messages provide accurate information on the insect repellents that provide the best protection, there is a paucity of information provided on how best these products should be used by individuals and those they care for.

Dr Webb’s engagement with mass media, online media (e.g. The Conversation), a personal blog (e.g. Mosquito Research and Management) and social media (e.g. Twitter) has resulted in substantial exposure of focused and informed public health messages. From mid-2014 through to the end of 2015, Dr Webb participated in over 80 mass media articles and interviews in print, online, radio and television media with public health information reaching an estimated audience of over 10 million people.[2] The focus of his messaging around mosquito-borne disease was to highlight the best way for the community to choose and use mosquito repellents; stressing the importance of active ingredients and application methods. This fills a gap in the current provision of public health information while also augmenting public health alerts and messages associated with the 2015 outbreak of Ross River virus disease.

Social media has become a “go to” source of information for much of the community. Information shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube has the potential to shape the habitats and behaviour of the community. Dr Webb is active on Twitter (currently followed by over 4,500 people); he uses the platform to engage with the social media accounts of journalists and broadcasters to establish a voice of authority in the field of mosquito-borne disease prevention and extend the reach and exposure of public health messages broadcast through mass media. Using Twitter to share links to informed articles following interviews reached hundreds of thousands of people by being shared by the social media accounts of journalists, media outlets, government organisations and community groups. During the 2014-2015 summer, tweets by Dr Webb reached an estimate 1.28 million people.[3]

Dr Webb regularly writes open access articles on his website, attracting around 250 daily visitors with over 117,000 article views.[4] In addition to his personal website, Dr Webb regularly contributes articles to The Conversation (a website for academics to share expert opinion and write about their latest research). His articles have attracted over 120,000 readers. However, one article “why mosquitoes seem to bite some people more” (published 26 January 2015) has alone been read by over 1.3 million people.[5] This “non-scholarly” writing not only establishes CIDM-PH scientists as authorities in public health matters but can also assist in directing the public to official health guidance provided on official websites and other sources.

Dr Webb’s activities provide a framework for how health authorities may engage with social media to extend public health messages. Organisations or individuals can connect health authority information with the community through media outlets. He has been invited to share his experiences in this field at local and international conferences and workshops including those coordinated by the Public Health Association of Australia, Australian Entomological Society and Entomological Society of America. In addition, Dr Webb has been invited to provide lectures on the benefits of social media for public health advocacy to undergraduate and post-graduate students at the University of Sydney.

While traditional messaging provided by health authorities will remain a staple in public health campaigns, social media provides a connection between traditional and emerging media and communication organisations. This increased connectivity between public health advocates, the media and community has the potential to greatly improve the awareness of mosquito-borne disease and increase the rate of uptake and application of strategic personal protection measures.

References

  1. Webb C.E. (2015). Are we doing enough to promote the effective use of mosquito repellents? Medical Journal of Australia, 202(3): 128-129.
  2. Estimated audience reported by Kobi Print, Media and Public Relations, University of Sydney, 23 April 2015, based on data provided by media monitoring organisation isentia.
  3. Estimated from total “tweet impressions” for the period October 2014 through April 2015 provided by Twitter Analytics (https://analytics.twitter.com/user/Mozziebites/home accessed 30 April 2015)
  4. Data provided by WordPress statistics (accessed 18 December 2015)
  5. Data provided by The Conversation metrics (accessed 18 December 2015)

This article was originally published by NSW Health showcasing some of the work within the NSW Population Health and Health Services Research Support Program. You can see the original article here.

Entomology 2014: Portland, Oregon

Portland Oregon Retains Its "Weird" TitlePortland isn’t going to get any less “weird” when 3000 entomologists hit town! I’m going to be one of them there talking tweets and tweaking public health messages.

This month I’m heading along to the Entomology 2014: The Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, 16-19 November in Portland, Oregon.

This will be the first time I’ve attended an ESA meeting and I’m really looking forward to it. These are large meetings with thousands of delegates, a big change from our recent Mosquito Control Association of Australia conference that attracted about 150 attendees! There is little doubt that I’ll be kept busy getting along to just a fraction of presentations I’m interested in. You can check the program yourself here.

A couple of interesting things I’m looking forward to (notwithstanding the coffee, record shopping and doughnuts) is the workshop on scientific writing, How not to write like a scientist, and a session on the role (or perhaps lack of a role) arthropods play in Ebola virus transmission. I’ve written about why mosquitoes don’t spread Ebola here.

I’ll be giving a couple of presentations, one on the role of mosquito repellents in managing mosquito-borne disease risk and another on the use of social media to promote public health messages. Both of these invited presentations are sure to be fun. It will be nice to catch up with some old friends during the repellent symposium. I recently contributed a book chapter to the new handbook on insect repellents edited by the session organizer/moderator Mustapha Debboun (alongside Dan Strickman and Steve Francis).  the symposium.The social media session will be fun too and, apart from sharing my experiences in using social media to promote public health messages, it will be great to catch up with many wonderful people who’ve made my experience on Twitter in recent years so rewarding.

My PhD student, David Lilly, will also be speaking on his work studying insecticide resistance in bed bugs. The abstracts for all these presentations are below but please note that due to the nature of some symposium, not abstracts are included on the Entomology 2014 online program.

Aedes aegypti

A researcher at Rockefeller University feeds her stock of yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti). This approach remains one of the most effective ways to test new mosquito repellents. (Photo: Alex Wild)

1. Finding a place for mosquito repellents in mosquito-borne disease management: An Australian perspective

Webb CE

Mosquito-borne disease is a growing concern for local authorities in Australia. While broad scale mosquito control programs reduce nuisance-biting impacts in some instances, in most regions where mosquito-borne pathogens, particularly Ross River virus, pose a public health risk, local authorities rely on the promotion of personal protection measures. A key component of such strategies is the use of topical insect repellents. There is little evidence that confirms their effectiveness in preventing disease. However, many studies have indicated that the correct use of topical repellents can protect against biting mosquitoes. As a result, it is likely that the promotion of topical insect repellents will remain a critical component of personal protection measures. If they’re here to stay, health authorities must ensure the public is aware of how to effectively choose and use repellents. Currently, there is a disjointed approach to repellent advice provided by state and local authorities. What is needed is a national approach that sets the framework for

The Challenges and Significant Contributions of Insect Repellents to Vector Control

Sunday, November 16, 2014: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM
B115-116 (Oregon Convention Center)


 

The global resurgence in bed bugs has been attributed to increased international travel and a shift in household insecticide use but perhaps it is resistance that is driving the increasing pest impacts? (Photo: Steve Doggett)

The global resurgence in bed bugs has been attributed to increased international travel and a shift in household insecticide use but perhaps it is resistance that is driving the increasing pest impacts? (Photo: Steve Doggett)

2. The importance of methodology and strain selection when determining efficacy of insecticides against bed bugs

Lilly D, Webb CE and Doggett SL

Selection of an appropriate bioassay technique and insect strain(s) are known to be important factors when attempting to accurately detect and monitor for insecticide resistance or define the efficacy of an insecticide. Recent studies with both susceptible and resistant strains of the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, have indicated these principles similarly apply to bed bugs and must be considered prior to undertaking diagnostic bioassays. Age, access to a blood meal, and the period since repletion may all influence the outcomes of bioassays with bed bugs. Dry residual deposits of insecticides, in particular those of neonicotinoids, also have the potential to overestimate resistance ratios or provide a false negative indication of efficacy when viewed in comparison to more applicable topical or wet residual exposure methods. Resistance monitoring of Australian field strains has also revealed that a wide spectrum in the magnitude of resistance can exist between strains that express identical resistance mechanisms, and that laboratory strains held in culture for long periods of time may lose resistance or change resistant genotypic frequencies. When factored in to the proliferation of field strains with various combinations of multiple and/or cross resistance mechanisms, this clearly presents a challenge to product manufacturers, registration bodies, and pest managers as to how they can ensure the experimental methodology and strain selected is most appropriate for the desired purpose or outcome. The results of laboratory investigations to provide informed guidance on recommended ‘best practise’ bioassays with bed bugs will be presented.

Graduate Student Ten-Minute Paper Competition: MUVE

Monday, November 17, 2014: 9:48 AM
B117-119 (Oregon Convention Center)


 

Engaging with the community is an important part of public health and beyond public meetings and workshops, social media may provided an effective way to get the messages out to increase awareness of mosquito-borne disease (Photo: Steve Doggett)

Engaging with the community is an important part of public health and beyond public meetings and workshops, social media may provided an effective way to get the messages out to increase awareness of mosquito-borne disease (Photo: Steve Doggett)

3. Can social media extend the reach of public health messages?

Webb CE

Increasing the exposure of public health messages is critical. This is particularly the case for mosquito-borne disease where advice on personal protection measures often informs the first line of defense against biting mosquitoes. Traditional media has been the mainstay of communication efforts by local authorities but could the use of social media provide a new vehicle for disseminating information and engaging with the wider community? The aims of this study were to determine if promotion and engagement via social media influenced how online information is accessed. A range of social media platforms, particularly Twitter, were employed to disseminate public health messages and engage the community and traditional media outlets. The total weekly exposure of “tweets” was measured for six months with approximately 40,000 people per week received tweets with maximum exposure of almost 190,000 people in a single week. Engagement with the accounts of traditional media (e.g. radio, print, television, online) was found to be the main route to increased exposure and, subsequently, to increased access of public health information online. With the increasing accessibility of the community to online resources via smartphones, researchers and public health advocates must develop strategies to effectively use social media. Many people now turn to social media as a source of news and information and those in the field of public health, as well as entomological research more generally, must take advantage of these new opportunities.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM
Portland Ballroom 252 (Oregon Convention Center)

If you’re attending the meeting, please say hi if you’re passing by and feel free to introduce yourself using your twitter handle! If you’re not at the meeting, you can keep track by following the hashtag #EntSoc14. I’ll be trying to tweet about bits and pieces during the conference so please join the conversation!

The image at the top of this post taken from “Top ten things you didn’t know about Portland