Risk perception during the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone

BMC Public Health. 2020 Oct 12;20(1):1539. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09648-8.


Background: Perceived susceptibility to a disease threat (risk perception) can influence protective behaviour. This study aims to determine how exposure to information sources, knowledge and behaviours potentially influenced risk perceptions during the 2014-2015 Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in Sierra Leone.

Methods: The study is based on three cross-sectional, national surveys (August 2014, n = 1413; October 2014, n = 2086; December 2014, n = 3540) that measured Ebola-related knowledge, attitudes, and practices in Sierra Leone. Data were pooled and composite variables were created for knowledge, misconceptions and three Ebola-specific behaviours. Risk perception was measured using a Likert-item and dichotomised into 'no risk perception' and 'some risk perception'. Exposure to five information sources was dichotomised into a binary variable for exposed and unexposed. Multilevel logistic regression models were fitted to examine various associations.

Results: Exposure to new media (e.g. internet) and community-level information sources (e.g. religious leaders) were positively associated with expressing risk perception. Ebola-specific knowledge and hand washing were positively associated with expressing risk perception (Adjusted OR [AOR] 1.4, 95% Confidence Interval [CI] 1.2-1.8 and AOR 1.4, 95% CI 1.1-1.7 respectively), whereas misconceptions and avoiding burials were negatively associated with risk perception, (AOR 0.7, 95% CI 0.6-0.8 and AOR 0.8, 95% CI 06-1.0, respectively).

Conclusions: Our results illustrate the complexity of how individuals perceived their Ebola acquisition risk based on the way they received information, what they knew about Ebola, and actions they took to protect themselves. Community-level information sources may help to align the public's perceived risk with their actual epidemiological risk. As part of global health security efforts, increased investments are needed for community-level engagements that allow for two-way communication during health emergencies.

Keywords: Ebola; Epidemic; Epidemiology; Global health; Infectious diseases; Risk perception.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Female
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Perception
  • Risk*
  • Sierra Leone / epidemiology