Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 109, Issue 1, pp 99–107 | Cite as

Characterizing the health and information-seeking behaviours of Ontarians in response to the Zika virus outbreak

  • Janet Randle
  • Mark Nelder
  • Doug Sider
  • Karin Hohenadel
Mixed Research



The purpose of this study is to describe the impact of the 2016 Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak on the health-seeking and information-seeking behaviours of Ontarians.


A timeline that included events and announcements from health agencies was constructed to describe the unfolding of the ZIKV outbreak between January 1 and September 30, 2016. In order to gain an understanding of the information and health-seeking behaviours of Ontarians, data from the following sources were collected and analyzed descriptively over time in 1-week intervals: trends in web searches, calls to a provincial telemedicine advice line, test submissions to the provincial laboratory and Zika-related media coverage.


The World Health Organization’s declaration that the ZIKV outbreak was a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) prompted a surge in media coverage peaking at 165 articles in a 1-week period. Concurrently, the frequency of Zika-related web searches was at its highest over the time period of the study, weekly telemedicine calls requesting Zika-related information were at their highest (177 calls/week) and requests for laboratory testing increased (162 patients submitting specimens/week).


Understanding the public response to novel and re-emerging infectious disease outbreaks as they unfold has the potential to facilitate timely public messaging for disease prevention, enable resource planning and inform effective public health action.


Re-emerging infectious disease Infectious disease outbreaks Zika virus Health behaviour 



Décrire les incidences de l’éclosion de virus Zika de 2016 sur les comportements favorisant la santé et les comportements de recherche d’information des Ontariens.


Nous avons construit une chronologie des activités et des annonces des organismes de santé pour décrire le déroulement de l’éclosion de virus Zika entre le 1er janvier et le 30 septembre 2016. Afin de mieux comprendre les comportements de santé et de recherche d’information des Ontariens, nous avons recueilli des données des sources suivantes et nous en avons fait l’analyse descriptive à intervalles d’une semaine : les tendances des recherches sur le Web, les appels à un centre de conseils provincial de télémédecine, les demandes d’épreuves présentées au laboratoire provincial et la couverture médiatique du virus Zika.


Quand l’Organisation mondiale de la santé a déclaré que l’éclosion de virus Zika était une « urgence de santé publique de portée internationale », il y a eu une poussée soudaine de la couverture médiatique, avec un sommet de 165 articles publiés au cours d’une même semaine. En parallèle, la fréquence des recherches sur le Web liées au virus Zika ont culminé durant la période de l’étude, tout comme les appels au centre de télémédecine pour demander de l’information sur le virus Zika (177 appels par semaine), et les demandes d’épreuves de laboratoire ont augmenté (162 patients par semaine ont soumis des spécimens).


La compréhension des réactions du public aux éclosions de maladies infectieuses nouvelles et réémergentes au fur et à mesure de leur déroulement pourrait faciliter la création de messages d’intérêt public opportuns pour prévenir ces maladies et permettre de planifier les ressources et d’améliorer l’efficacité des interventions de santé publique.


Maladies infectieuses réémergentes Éclosions de maladies infectieuses virus Zika Comportement en matière de santé 



We would like to thank the following people at Public Health Ontario for helping to provide data for this study and for their expert knowledge and support: Brian Schwartz, Jonathan Gubbay, Erik Kristjanson, Romy Olsha, Janet Wong, Jessica Wong, Christopher Hoy, Samantha Engbers, Janica Adams and Lina Tirilis. We would also like to thank Adam Jones from Telehealth Ontario for providing data for this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None to declare.

Ethics approval

The protocol for this study was submitted to the Public Health Ontario Ethics Review Board and was determined to be exempt from ethics review. Personal health information and personal information were not used in this study.


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Copyright information

© UK Crown 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janet Randle
    • 1
  • Mark Nelder
    • 2
  • Doug Sider
    • 3
  • Karin Hohenadel
    • 4
  1. 1.Infection Control DepartmentMount Sinai HospitalTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Enteric, Zoonotic and Vector-Borne DiseasesPublic Health OntarioTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Communicable Diseases, Emergency Preparedness and ResponsePublic Health OntarioTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Communicable DiseasesPublic Health OntarioTorontoCanada

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