How localized outbreaks and changes in media coverage affect Zika attitudes in national and local contexts

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Public opinion researchers often find changing attitudes about pressing public health issues to be a difficult task and even when attitudes do change, behaviors often do not. However, salient real-world events have the ability to bring public health crises to the fore in unique ways. To assess the impact of localized public health events on individuals’ self-reported behavior, this paper examines Floridians’ intentions to take preventative measures against the Zika virus before and after the first locally transmitted case of Zika emerged in Florida. We find that local and national media coverage of Zika increased significantly following its first transmission in the U.S. Critically, we also find that Floridians surveyed after this increase in media coverage were more likely to pay attention to Zika-related news, and self-report intentions to take protective action against the virus. These results suggest that behavioral intentions can shift as health threats become more proximate.

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