Risk Analysis

Understanding Fear of Zika: Personal, Interpersonal, and Media Influences

Journal Article


Fear of infectious disease often motivates people to protect themselves. But, it can also produce negative bio‐social‐psychological effects whose severity is on par with those of the disease. The WHO declaration of Zika as a world health crisis presented an opportunity to study factors that bring about fear. Beginning nine days after the WHO announcement, data were gathered from women aged 18–35 living in the southern United States (N = 719). Respondents reported experiencing fear of Zika at levels akin to those reported following other significant crises/disasters (e.g., the terrorist attacks of 9/11). Fear increased as a function of (1) personal, but not other‐relevance, (2) frequency of media exposure, but not media content, and (3) frequency of interpersonal exposure and interpersonal content. It is argued that media and interpersonal message sources may be innately predisposed to amplify, rather than attenuate, risk.

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