Leveraging Ebola Publicity for Seasonal Flu Outreach

Submitted By

Wally Burden
Pike County General Health District, Ohio
November 5, 2014

With the Ebola outbreak reaching U.S. soil, many Americans are concerned about their risk of infection. One county health department is tackling the concerns of its jurisdiction head-on and simultaneously leveraging the Ebola discussion for influenza education and outreach.

In October 2014, Pike County General Health District in Ohio started an initiative to curb people’s fear of Ebola and bring flu preparedness into the spotlight using social media. After it was revealed that an infected Dallas healthcare worker had flown to Ohio, alarm about Ebola spread quickly.

To combat these concerns and shift the conversation towards public health issues more likely to affect the community, health department officials have been regularly updating their agency’s Facebook page. These updates have been leading with the status of Ebola in Ohio, particularly emphasizing that there are currently zero confirmed cases in the state, but they are quickly followed by messages highlighting the very real threats from influenza. Piggybacking off of the page views generated by Ebola updates, officials have gone on to list differences in signs and symptoms between Ebola and the flu and emphasize the vast number of Americans who will become infected with or even die from the flu, as opposed to the small number who will be affected by Ebola. The posts also cite the importance of keeping healthy habits such as washing your hands, staying home when you are sick and covering your mouth and nose when you cough to stay healthy during flu season and prevent against infecting others.

Though it is early in the campaign, health officials believe it is working. Because Facebook allows page creators to view hits on their site, the Pike County has been able to track their flu campaign outreach efforts and have noticed significant traffic. They have received fewer calls about Ebola, and they appear to have given more flu vaccinations than this time last year, though some of this increase may also be attributed to their efforts to increase vaccination rates in the senior citizen community. The campaign has also directly led to a partnership with a local workers’ coalition to organize an informative presentation on Ebola and the flu.

Sometimes during an emergency, a window of opportunity presents itself. By using the publicity around the Ebola outbreak as a platform to promote flu shots, Pike County General Health District has created a low-cost, easily replicated way to spread a core local public health message and educate the community on a disease more likely to affect them this winter. Remember, don’t wait to vaccinate – get your flu shot!

One thought on “Leveraging Ebola Publicity for Seasonal Flu Outreach

  1. Rebecca Gehring
    December 5, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Nice article Wally!

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