I learned about the outbreak from Puking Veronika

That’s one of the responses Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I received when we asked University of Guelph students how they got information that a norovirus outbreak was happening on campus a couple of years ago. The kids were getting information through non-official channels and rumours were high. A lesson that was learned from the outbreak was to communicate with the target audience (whether it be college students or folks in a long-term care facility) with mediums they are already comfortable with.

I got an email from a couple of folks at Guelph this morning saying that our recently published Journal of Environmental Health article where the above results and conclusions were shared is making the rounds on campus. Here are some of the highlights from the interview I did with Katie Mangan at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"We couldn’t follow students into the bathroom, because that leads to ethical problems," Mr. Chapman says. So the researchers focused on whether students were using a plastic bottle of hand-sanitizing gel placed at the entrance of a cafeteria that had been described to them as "ground zero" of the outbreak.

"What people do and what they say with regard to hand hygiene are two different things," Mr. Chapman reports.

He says health officials should aim their messages at specific audiences, such as students living in a particular residence hall. Instant messaging and other social-media tools should be used as well.

"It really hits home," he notes, "when their classmates start changing their IM names to something like Puking Veronica."

Gotta know how to reach the kids with health messages; make it relevant and compelling. Check out www.foodsafetyinfosheets to see how we attempt to do that.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.