Bangladesh health officials use traditional media to look for illness clusters

New York City and Chicago have been using social media as a supplemental tool to identify illness clusters and connect with potential victims.

Developing countries, where laboratory-based surveillance infrastructure is low, may use traditional media as an outbreak indicator. The cost is relatively low and it can provide a starting point.

Like in Bangladesh. A study published in EID details how traditional media clips have helped their surveillance activities.

The national rapid response team, consisting of key staff members from IEDCR, received a daily email containing all identified health-related newspaper articles and video clips. The team examined each news item and decided whether it warranted an outbreak response on the basis of expert clinical and epidemiologic knowledge; public health importance (e.g., number of cases and deaths reported, severity of symptoms); and verification by local health officials. For the purposes of this analysis, IEDCR retrospectively created a database of reported events sent by the media scanning company, which included the number of reported events, outbreak etiology, news source, and the outcome of each investigation. The outbreaks reported were classified by media type, etiology, and season.

Key informant interviews consistently indicated that the system was simple, flexible, timely, and acceptable because it used existing media infrastructure and required only minimal costs to contract with a company to compile daily reports of news items. Changes to the system could be implemented effectively through frequent communications between the media scanning company and IEDCR. The system was widely acceptable by all stakeholders and was considered a valuable component of disease surveillance in Bangladesh.

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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.