Impact of Mass Media on Public Behavior and Physicians: An Ecological Study of the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

The mass media plays an important role in public health behavior.

PURPOSE

The objective of the present study was to investigate the effect of mass media coverage of the H1N1 pandemic on the number of emergency department (ED) visits and hospital admission rates.

METHODS

An ecological study of ED visits to 8 general Israeli hospitals due to influenza-like illness during the period June–October 2009 was performed. Data on the number of visits per day for children and adults and daily hospitalization rates were analyzed. Associations with the estimated value of H1N1-related publications and weekly reports from nationwide sentinel clinics were assessed. The analysis was performed in 2012–2013.

RESULTS

There were 55,070 ED visits due to influenza-like illness during the study period. The overall number of media reports was 1,812 (14.3% radio broadcasts, 9.8% television broadcasts, 27.5% newspaper articles, and 48.5% major website reports). The overall estimated value of advertising of publications was $16,399,000, excluding the Internet. While H1N1 incidence recorded by Israeli sentinel clinics showed no association with mass media publications, peaks of media reports were followed by an increase in the number of ED visits, usually with a delay of 3 days (P = .005). This association was noted in children (P < .001) but not in adults (P > .1), with a corresponding decrease in hospital admission rates. Publications' framing had no association with ED visits.

CONCLUSIONS

During the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak in Israel, an increase in mass media coverage was associated with an increase in pediatric ED visits.

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