Researchers from York University in Canada and Shaanxi Normal University in China have found that mass media coverage of a particular epidemic can be used to slow the disease’s progress.
The study, available in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, suggests that health care workers can use mass media reports to change the behavior of people involved in an epidemic or outbreak. News reports can help people to stay up to date on the epidemic, its effects and its spread.
The analysts specifically evaluated the H1N1 epidemic in China’s Shaanxi province.
“During the A/H1N1 outbreak in Xi'an, I came down with a bad cold and stayed in the university hospital for treatment,” professor Sanyi Tang, corresponding author of the study from Shaanxi Normal, said. "Because of the large number of patients with A/H1N1 and the limited number of beds, I was given medicine and released from the hospital. This process made me and my team members begin to think about how we could use mathematical modelling and statistical methods to study the outbreak. We started studying interventions used to control the outbreak, most recently looking at the effect of media coverage."
They looked for connections between the duration and quantity of epidemic news stories and the number of hospital visits. The data demonstrated that more news reports were connected to fewer visits to the hospital and that media coverage is a useful, important approach to stopping diseases from spreading.