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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Florida Faculty Member Finds Rapid Evolution of Beliefs About Ebola during Onset of Liberia’s Outbreak

At the start of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Liberians’ beliefs about the source of Ebola, modes of contagion, and infection prevention and control practices changed rapidly, with incorrect information being discarded and quickly replaced by accurate understanding, according to a study published in the Journal of Health Communication.

The study team included Dr. Sarah McKune, an assistant professor in the department of environmental and global health in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, and researchers at Rutgers University and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We found that knowledge changed very quickly — much faster than what was being reported. However changes in practice lagged behind changes in knowledge. In other words, the acquisition of accurate beliefs did not necessarily mean improved behaviors,” Dr. McKune said. “It also showed that some conspiracy theories or cultural myths endured, even in the face of changed, accurate knowledge.”

The team analyzed data collected in 2014 in 13 neighborhoods in Monrovia, Liberia. A WHO team conducted focus groups and interviews with residents and officials on their Ebola knowledge, attitudes and practices to assess the spread of information during a two-week period at the start of the public health crisis.

“The findings have important implications for social media and marketing campaigns, which are frequently used to change behavior during disease outbreaks, as well as on historical interpretation of the ‘resistance’ reported during the Ebola outbreak in Monrovia,” Dr. McKune said.