University of California researchers find that directing college students to trusted health information sources is a crucial barrier to overcome, prior to the next deadly pandemic, new research suggests.
The paper, titled “Assessing the Level of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs about Ebola Virus Disease Among College Students,” was published online July 28 by the American Journal of Infection Control (http://www.ajicjournal.org/article/S0196-6553(15)00695-1/abstract).
Although previous studies have shown that college students learn about current events first through social media, the UC research group’s findings indicate that a different trend was observed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
UC researchers surveyed 514 UCI undergraduate students from February to April. The study focused on assessing students’ knowledge regarding the symptoms and modes of transmission of the Ebola virus. Additionally, the researchers wanted to find out whether students’ knowledge varied significantly depending on the type of news sources utilized.
Results showed that misconceptions about the disease are still prevalent amongst the college population. Surprisingly, 31 percent of students still believe that the virus is transmitted through mosquitoes, while 25 percent believe it can spread through asymptomatic carriers in an airplane. Overall, students’ knowledge scores averaged 10.9 out of 24, reflecting a poor understanding of the disease.
The majority of the students (41 percent), ranked news media as their main source of Ebola information, while only a minority (12 percent) ranked official government websites (CDC, WHO or NIH) as their main source. Study participants who reported accessing the latter presented a significantly higher knowledge score in comparison to other sources.
These findings suggest that there is a pressing need for directing college students to trusted health information sources and raising awareness about the Ebola virus. “In order for students to benefit from reliable disease outbreak information available online, they must first know that these sources exist,” Mrs. Koralek explained. “Although, we are certain that a large number of American college students have access to the Internet, we might be underestimating their awareness of where to find accurate health information during times of an outbreak,” the authors concluded. The need for attaining Ebola knowledge might not seem so crucial at the moment, but raising students’ awareness for where to find accurate health information during future outbreaks should be a top priority, according to the research findings.
Manuscript authors include Mrs. Thrissia Koralek and Dr. Miryha Runnerstrom from the UC Irvine Program in Public Health, and Dr. Brandon Brown from the UC Riverside School of Medicine.