A new article by a team of health promotion and disease prevention researchers at Florida International University (FIU) Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, in the journal of Health Education and Behavior, reports the knowledge and actions of 139 public university students in response to the 2016 Zika outbreak in Miami, Fla.
Led by Dr. William W. Darrow, in collaboration with doctoral students Mr. Chintan Bhatt, Ms. Cassandra Rene and Ms. Lakisha Thomas, the team conducted the survey to quantify the level of awareness of the Zika outbreak and encourage increased prevention efforts for the future.
For “Zika Virus Awareness and Prevention Practices Among University Students in Miami: Fall 2016,” the cross-sectional group of students comprised individuals who were enrolled at FIU during the fall semester of 2016.
The first case of mosquito-borne Zika infection was confirmed in June 2016. Six months later, the first locally acquired case was reported. Local public health and school officials began warning students of the outbreak in August. The team’s survey commenced in November – December, shortly after local transmissions of mosquito bites were reported in Miami neighborhoods such as Wynwood, Little River and Miami Beach (i.e., geographical areas within 10 miles or less of where students lived, worked or attended class).
About half (50.4 percent) of the 139 respondents had heard about Zika prior to 2016. Most (47.1 percent) first learned about Zika through television, 18.8 percent from family or friends, and 15.2 percent from the Internet, social media, or university-wide emails. Two-thirds (66.2 percent) believed Zika could be prevented, 15.1 percent thought it might be prevented, and 85.7 percent had taken some precautions.
The vast majority of students (86.3 percent) used a repellent and wore long sleeves and pants to prevent mosquito bites after learning about Zika; however, few survey respondents did everything in their capacity to minimize the chances of infection. Examples of additional measures include using a mosquito bed net, spraying or fumigating living spaces, spraying permethrin on clothing and abstaining from sexual intercourse.
According to the Stempel College research team, most resources in Florida are earmarked for disease surveillance, environmental controls of the vector and biomedical research. They say state legislators and administrators should devote more attention to continuous quality improvement of educational programs and health literacy levels among full and part-time residents, tourists and visitors to the state.
Furthermore, the researchers conclude that informing the public about Zika is a vital step in creating awareness and implementing precautions. They believe effective health education is essential, but warn that awareness does not suggest that individuals are knowledgeable about and consistently engaged in Zika prevention practices.
Dr. Darrow is a professor in the department of health promotion and disease prevention. He conducts research on the social and behavioral aspects of HIV and other infectious diseases. He also teaches public health courses on program planning and evaluation, ethical issues and survey research methods. His three co-authors were members of his survey research class in fall 2016 and worked together on the design, analysis and writing of the Zika awareness and practices study.