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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UC Irvine: U.S. College Students’ Ebola Misinformation Reveals a Need for Innovative Risk Communication Strategies

Although the majority of college students surveyed had heard about the 2014 Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak (96%), misconceptions and a generally low knowledge of Ebola facts, symptoms, and modes of transmission were prevalent between both universities.

The study is among the first to assess the impact of news sources utilized by college students during the Ebola outbreak and its role on Ebola knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and stigma.


[Photo: Mrs. Thrissia Koralek]

Findings are published online in the PLOS Currents: Outbreaks.

Results were based on data from 797 undergraduate college students from the University of California, Irvine and Ohio University. The survey was administered approximately 11 months after the first Ebola cases were notified in March 2014.

“Our study identified the news and social media as undergraduates’ most popular sources of information during times of an outbreak, however; these sources did not correspond to a high knowledge of the disease,” said Mrs. Thrissia Koralek, UCI Alumni and lead author of the study.

The researchers also found that a small minority (11%) of their sample utilized official government websites (e.g. WHO, NIH, CDC) to obtain information about the Ebola outbreak. Despite the low popularity of this source of information among college students, those students had a significantly higher knowledge of the disease, demonstrated more positive attitudes towards those infected and a higher belief in the government, and were less likely to stigmatize Ebola victims.

“These results suggest that official government websites are certainly influencing readers in a positive manner, but the challenge is to amplify the effectiveness by reaching out to more students during an outbreak,” said Dr. Miryha Runnerstrom, Assistant Teaching Professor in the UC Irvine Program of Public Health.

Key Recommendations:

The full study can be found here

Manuscript authors include Mrs. Thrissia Koralek and Dr. Miryha Runnerstrom from the UC Irvine Program in Public Health; Dr. Brandon Brown from the Department of Social Medicine and Population Health at UC Riverside School of Medicine; and Mr. Chukwuemeka Uchegbu and Dr. Tania Basta from the Department of Social and Public Health at Ohio University.