Thinking Outside the Box: OutbreakNet Enhanced Sites Get Creative with Public Health Messaging
OutbreakNet Enhanced (OBNE) sites work to solve outbreaks faster to prevent the spread of enteric diseases. One way to control outbreaks is to disseminate public health messages that promote healthy behaviors. Innovative public health messages can reach a larger population or a particular group as well as make the information more accessible and understandable. Each year, local and state health departments face new challenges, and OBNE sites look for new ways to combat those challenges. Here are some of the creative ways OBNE sites have reached their populations.
Alaska has a centralized complaint system for the public to report food-related issues, including enteric illnesses. In 2019, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) collaborated to increase reporting and awareness of enteric disease outbreaks through the complaint system. DHSS Public Information Officers and DEC Food Safety & Sanitation Program staff partnered to create and distribute promotional materials including stickers, pens, lip balm, and a refrigerator magnet to advertise the complaint line. These materials are an easy and memorable way for citizens to know what to do when they suspect they’ve gotten sick from an enteric illness. The promotional materials were well received at highly populated events, including the State Fair, and successfully boosted awareness of the complaint line. The promotional materials continue to be given out at events across the state and the Food Safety & Sanitation Program staffs the complaint line to help identify foodborne and waterborne illness outbreaks in Alaska and helps prevent the spread of illness to others.
Since 2003 the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) has held several annual poster design contests for students to increase awareness about a variety of public health matters. Topics like safe sleep, hand washing, sun safety, health swimming, and Valley fever have been highlighted over the past 17 years. The contest instructions typically include helpful tips and facts to help Arizonians stay healthy and safe. OBNE staff in AZDHS play a critical role in promoting the poster contest, especially for healthy swimming activities. Their outreach in the community is an important aspect of making the contest successful, especially with the varying public health topics each year. Increasing children’s awareness and knowledge has been a focal point of AZDHS and continues to be at the forefront of the department’s mission to improve the public’s health. While children design the posters, their messages promote healthy behaviors for Arizonans of all ages. Here is one of the past contest winner’s poster designs from 2018.
In early 2020 the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) Office of Public Health (OPH) Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section (IDEpi) collaborated with OPH Sanitarian Services to lead a food safety workshop for inmates at a local prison in response to an increase in hepatitis A cases within the state, including several that occurred in correctional facilities. OPH sanitarians and epidemiologists presented at the food safety workshop and emphasized the importance of food handling and storage practices to prevent foodborne diseases. During the workshop, inmates learned about important food safety practices including food labeling, food sourcing, acceptable food temperatures, employee health practices, cross contamination, food contact and sanitation, toxic chemicals, and water and sewage maintenance. Attendees were engaged throughout the workshop and the prison was receptive to the current guidelines and suggestions made by OPH sanitarians. The prison aims to continue utilizing the advice given at the workshop to maintain proper food safety practices and prevent future illnesses.
In 2019, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) launched a statewide hepatitis A virus (HAV) vaccination campaign after there was a statewide HAV outbreak. In order to get the message out, VDH, in coordination with the Virginia Rapid Response Team and the Food Protection Task Force, developed a campaign advertisement with Pandora Radio, focusing on HAV educational awareness, vaccination information, and food safety. These promotional public health messages highlighted information on how the virus is spread, signs and symptoms of infection, as well as how to reduce transmission. The advertisement campaign ran during June 2019 and garnered over 1 million impressions.
Proper hand hygiene is a critical component of food safety and contributes to illness prevention. The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) is collaborating with the Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence (CoE) to develop a hand washing and enteric disease prevention coloring and activity book for young children. Children are more susceptible to many enteric diseases, so the book highlights the need for starting proper hand hygiene habits at a young age. In the coloring books, hand hygiene is linked to other positive public health practices, like being knowledgeable about food safety and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. NDMOH’s creation of an interactive children’s coloring and activity book is an innovative way to reach a more vulnerable population, while also providing fun and educational entertainment.
To be most effective, public health messages and dissemination methods need to be tailored to the target population. Looking for new ways to promote positive health practices can help health departments effectively reach more people with the most appropriate and relevant messages. These projects from OBNE sites are great examples of how public health professionals work to inform the public about health risks and help prevent enteric disease. Innovative ways to disseminate messages are important to effectively reaching varied populations. OBNE sites continue to find creative ways to spread public health messaging and share their successes for others to learn from.