Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: Previous work related to zoonotic diseases has identified a lack of communication between physicians and veterinarians and has looked at the potential spread of disease related to animal patterns. However, little research has been done to determine current social networks for spreading information related to zoonotic diseases nor investigated current communication plans and preparedness for an outbreak. Social network theory informed this qualitative study. The specific research questions in this study were: 1) How prepared for a zoonotic disease outbreak are those involved in health communication with the public? 2) What level of communication planning has been done for the outbreak of a zoonotic disease? 3) what social networks exist to communicate about a zoonotic disease with involved parties?
Methods: In-depth semi-structured interviews were used to understand the social networks and processes for purposively sampled areas in Kansas. This area was selected because the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) is in the process of relocating to Manhattan, Kansas. Participants were members of one of four groups 1) medical professionals, 2) veterinarians, 3) first responders, or 4) those in charge of handling large animals (farmers and feedlots).
Results: Preliminary results indicate many medical professionals are not prepared for a zoonotic disease outbreak, and current communication plans do not have sections on zoonotic disease outbreaks. Large animal veterinarians, rural veterinarians, and those involved in handling large animals have thought about processes for a zoonotic disease outbreak. In some communities, the first responders have a plan in place for communicating about and handling a zoonotic disease and some specialized medical professionals are prepared like the neonatal intensive care units. Thus far, the social networks and information sources do not overlap for the non-agricultural audiences (medical professionals and first responders) and the agricultural audiences (veterinarians and those in charge of handling large animals). There is a reluctance in certain communities to discuss zoonotic diseases especially within the county health departments. By the time of presentation, all data will be collected and analyzed, so researchers can offer major themes.
Conclusions: Preliminary data indicates that non-agricultural audiences (medical professionals and first responders) tend to be less informed about zoonotic diseases and outbreaks than agricultural audiences (veterinarians and those in charge of handling large animals). However, some specific communities and specialized units have systems in place to handle a zoonotic disease outbreak and have gone as far as running training scenarios that involve all audiences in this study. By the time of presentation, all data will be collected and analyzed, so researchers can offer more detailed conclusions.
Implications for research and/or practice: All audiences expressed a willingness and desire for continued information and education related to zoonotic diseases, thus there is an opportunity to help in development of communication materials and updating current communication plans. Additionally, there is an opportunity to increase communication between non-agricultural and agricultural audiences so social networks will be in place if a zoonotic disease outbreak occurs.