How to Promote Action through Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to take an action. As risk communicators, it is our job to motivate self-efficacy, explain risks, and promote positive health behaviors. CDC recommends that all travelers coming to the continental US from Zika-affected areas take steps to prevent local transmission, even if they do not feel sick and do not show symptoms. In order to encourage individual travelers to adopt positive prevention methods, messages must successfully communicate facts, risks, and the larger public health benefits.
How can health communicators encourage healthy returned travelers to help fight the spread of Zika virus disease?
1. Give facts
Providing facts that support recommendations will help people come to their own conclusions about whether they should take action.
- Most people infected with Zika will not have symptoms and won’t know they are carrying the virus.
- The virus can be passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
- Zika can be spread by a man to his sex partners. There have been confirmed cases of sexual transmission in the continental United States.
2. Describe the risk
People perceive risks differently, depending on how familiar they are with the risk, their proximity to affected areas, the vulnerability of those at risk, whether the consequences are reversible, and if the risk is natural or manmade.
- Although Zika is a natural vector-borne infectious disease that can spread through the bite of an Aedes mosquito, it may cause irreversible health outcomes in a vulnerable population—babies.
- Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth.
3. Encourage self-efficacy as a social norm
Help all travelers from Zika-affected areas recognize their role in protecting the public’s health. Make actions accessible and clearly understood through fact sheets, prevention kits, and point-of-sale advertising for insect repellent and condoms. Use community leaders and spokespersons to socialize the importance of mosquito bite prevention and protecting pregnant women.
- CDC recommends that all travelers returning from an area with Zika to the continental United States take steps to prevent mosquito bites for 3 weeks so they do not spread Zika to uninfected mosquitoes, even if the travelers do not feel sick.
- Men returning from areas with Zika, even without symptoms, are advised that if they have pregnant partners they should wear condoms the right way every time they have vaginal, anal, or oral (mouth-to-penis) sex during the pregnancy.
If the protective measures taken by these travelers can prevent local Zika transmission, it is important that they understand what that can do and that they can do it. As health communicators, we can promote self-efficacy, make information available, and suggest actions that are doable in order to stop the spread of Zika.