OBJECTIVES: This study aimed to understand what information the US media communicated about Zika virus (ZIKV) and travel in 2016 and 2017.
STUDY DESIGN: We conducted a content analysis of news coverage about ZIKV and travel from April 5, 2016 to March 31, 2017.
METHODS: We obtained a stratified, random sample of English language, US print newspaper and television news coverage about ZIKV and travel. We developed a coding scheme to assess key messages in the news, including how ZIKV is transmitted, the symptoms and outcomes of ZIKV infection, and recommended prevention behaviors.
RESULTS: Almost all news stories mentioned mosquito-borne transmission (96.8%) and just over half mentioned sexual transmission (55.3%). News stories were more likely to talk about ZIKV outcomes (78.8%) than ZIKV symptoms (40.6%). However, outcomes affecting babies were mentioned more frequently than outcomes affecting adults. Recommendations included a wide array of protective behaviors, such as delaying or avoiding travel (77.6%) and using mosquito repellent (41.0%). However, few studies (10.9%) mentioned barriers to practicing ZIKV prevention behaviors.
CONCLUSIONS: Public health organizations and professionals can use these findings to help improve communication about future outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses. We also recommend conducting real-time monitoring of news media and frequent content analysis of news stories to ensure coverage provides the information the public needs.