Background Large-scale influenza outbreaks over the last decade, such as SARS and H1N1, have brought to global attention the importance of emergency risk communication and prompted the international community to develop communication responses. Since pandemic outbreaks are relatively infrequent, there is a dearth of evidence addressing the following questions: (i) Have the resources invested in strategic and routine communication for past pandemic outbreaks yielded public health preparedness benefits? (ii) Have past efforts sensitized people to pay attention to new pandemic threats? The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that was followed closely by major media outlets in the USA provides an opportunity to examine the relationship between exposure to public communication about epidemics and public awareness and knowledge about new risks. Methods In December, 2013, we surveyed a nationally representative sample of 627 American adults and examined the associations between people's awareness to prior pandemics and their awareness of and knowledge about MERS. Results Awareness of prior pandemics was significantly associated with awareness and knowledge of MERS. The most common sources from which people first heard about MERS were also identified. Conclusions Communication inequalities were observed between racial/ethnic and socioeconomic positions, suggesting a need for more effective pandemic communication.
- communication inequalities
- disease outbreaks
- risk communication
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health