Thursday, August 17, 2017

Public sentiment and discourse about Zika virus on Instagram

The Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads the Zika virus, as well as dengue fever and chikungunya.

Instagram can be used to identify incorrect information about health issues and help health professionals correct misleading or incomplete information. University of Pennsylvania researchers in the September 2017 issue of Public Health showed how using keywords or hashtags public health professionals can get real-time information about public preparedness and response to diseases.

The researchers used the keyword #zika to identify 500 images posted on Instagram from May to August 2016 about public sentiment on the Zika outbreak. They found that 60% of relevant posts included misleading, incomplete or unclear information about the virus and many images (51%) expressed fear and negative sentiment.

Of the 500 images tagged with #zika, 342 (68%) contained content actually related to Zika. Of the 342 images, 299 were coded as ‘health” and 193 were coded as ‘public interest’. 

Health images related mainly to transmission (43%) and prevention (48%). Transmission-related posts were more about mosquito-to-human transmission rather than human-to-human transmission. Mosquito bite prevention was more of a concern than safe sex prevention. The most targeted audience were women (36 of 38 images).

Images were coded by three reviewers who collected contextual information about sentiment, image type, content, audience, geography, reliability and engagement.

Reference: Seltzer, E.K., E. Horst-Martz, M. Lu, R.M. Merchant. (2017). Public sentiment and discourse about Zika virus on Instagram. Public Health. Vol. 150, pp. 170-175. DOI:  Retrieved from