Twitter Communication During an Outbreak of Hepatitis A in San Diego, 2016-2018

Am J Public Health. 2020 Oct;110(S3):S348-S355. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2020.305900.


Objectives. To examine how and what information is communicated via social media during an infectious disease outbreak.Methods. In the context of the 2016 through 2018 hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego County, California, we used a grounded theory-based thematic analysis that employed qualitative and quantitative approaches to uncover themes in a sample of public tweets (n = 744) from Twitter, a primary platform used by key stakeholders to communicate to the public during the outbreak.Results. Tweets contained both general and hepatitis A-specific information related to the outbreak, restatements of policy and comments critical of government responses to the outbreak, information with the potential to shape risk perceptions, and expressions of concern regarding individuals experiencing homelessness and their role in spreading hepatitis A. We also identified misinformation and common channels of content driving themes that emerged in our sample.Conclusions. Public health professionals may identify real-time public risk perceptions and concerns via social media during an outbreak and target responses that fulfill the informational needs of those who seek direction and reassurance during times of uncertainty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Grounded Theory
  • Health Communication*
  • Hepatitis A* / therapy
  • Hepatitis A* / transmission
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Social Media*