A content analysis of the UK press response to the diagnosis of Ebola in a British healthcare worker

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Abstract

Background

The Ebola epidemic led to considerable media attention, which may influence public risk perception. Therefore, this study analysed the UK press response following diagnosis of a British healthcare worker (HCW) with Ebola.

Methods

Using the Nexis database, the frequency of Ebola-related articles in UK national newspaper articles was mapped. This was followed by a content analysis of Ebola-related articles in the four newspapers with highest UK net readership from November 2014 to February 2015.

Results

During the 16-week study period, 1349 articles were found. The day with the highest number of Ebola-related articles was 31 December 2014, the day after the diagnosis of Ebola in a UK HCW. Seventy-seven articles were included in the content analysis. Content analysis demonstrated a shift from West African to UK-focused articles, increased discussion of border control, UK policy decisions and criticism, and an increased number of articles with a reassuring/threatening message.

Conclusions

UK press coverage of Ebola increased following a HCW's diagnosis, particularly regarding discussion of screening measures. This is likely to have increased risk perception of Ebola in the UK population and may have contributed to subsequent strengthening of UK screening policy beyond World Health Organisation requirements.

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