Risk and Rumor: Mediating Public Knowledge About Communicable Disease

Zika Virus Cross-Section





When: Monday, December 10, 2018, 1-3

Where: Room H-1154, Henry F. Hall Building (1455 De Maisonneuve W.), Sir George Williams Campus, Concordia University.


Marcelo GarciaThe Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) & Visiting Scholar (2018-2019), Sociology & Anthropology, Concordia University

Risk, rumors, and production of senses about 2015/2016 zika and microcephaly epidemics on social networks (Garcia and colleagues)
The epidemic of zika and microcephaly occurred in the summer of 2015/2016 was one of the most critical public health emergencies in Latin America in this century and had as a striking feature the wide circulation of virtual rumors, impacting the public policies and actions. We analyzed the main narratives that circulated in Whatsapp during the acute phase of the epidemic, from November 2015 to February 2016.  After that, we studied how three Facebook’s page registered the epidemics (of a national distributed journal, of a local newspaper of the state most affected by the epidemic, and of one of the public health institutions that were most prominent in the episode). We also studied the public participation in comments on posts published by these pages and related explicitly with hoaxes. We observed that the production of an environment of high uncertainty was related with three main factors: 1) the lack of knowledge about the disease, 2) the imaginary of risk related to the development of science, and 3) the political and institutional crisis in Brazil. Two points served as fertile substrate for rumors: why an epidemics of microcephaly like that were never registered before and why the microcephaly cases were concentrated just in the Northeast of Brazil. Our findings raised some issues, for example, about the ambiguous relationship with the scientific authority established in the rumors and about the different temporalities between the science under construction, the press routines and the population immediacy. As final reflexion, we highlight that the confluence of an era of mediatization and risk culture, where science loses its status as truth and the truth itself becomes more fluid, post-truth, the social networks kind of “institutionalize” diffuse and confusing places of speech, where comments circulate almost in equality with more qualified discourses, that`s proper for the dissemination of hoaxes.

Ketra Schmitt—Associate Professor with the Centre for Engineering in Society in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science

Communicable Diseases and Vaccine Hesitancy (Schmitt and colleagues)
It is well established in the epidemiological literature that individual behaviors have a significant effect on the spread of infectious diseases. Agent-based models are increasingly being recognized as the next generation of epidemiological models. In this research, we use the ability of agent-based models to incorporate behavior into simulations by examining the relative importance of vaccination and social distancing, two common measures for controlling the spread of infectious diseases, with respect to seasonal influenza. We modeled health behaviour using the result of a Health Belief Model study focused on influenza. We considered a control and a treatment group to explore the effect of education on people’s health-related behaviors patterns. The control group reflects the behavioral patterns of students based on their general knowledge of influenza and its interventions while the treatment group illustrates the level of behavioral changes after individuals have been educated by a health care expert. The results of this study indicate that self-initiated behaviors are successful in controlling an outbreak in a high contact rate location such as a university. Self-initiated behaviors resulted in a population attack rate decrease of 17 % and a 25 % reduction in the peak number of cases. The simulation also provides significant evidence for the effect of an HBM theory-based educational program to increase the rate of applying the target interventions (vaccination by 22 % percent and social distancing by 41 %) and consequently to control the outbreak.