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Emerg Health Threats J. 2009;2:e6. doi: 10.3134/ehtj.09.006. Epub 2009 Jul 31.

Population response to the risk of vector-borne diseases: lessons learned from socio-behavioural research during large-scale outbreaks.

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  • 1National Center for Scientific Research, Institute of Labour Economics and Industrial Sociology, Aix-en-provence, France.


Vector-borne infectious diseases, such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and West Nile fevers are increasingly identified as major global human health threats in developing and developed countries. The success or failure of vector control rests mainly on the nature and scale of the behavioural response of exposed populations. Large-scale adoption of recommended protective behaviour represents a critical challenge that cannot be addressed without a better understanding of how individuals perceive and react to the risk of infection. Recently, French overseas territories faced large-scale outbreaks: an epidemic of chikungunya fever in La Re' union and Mayotte (2005-2006) and four successive outbreaks of dengue fever in one Caribbean island, Martinique (1995-2007). To assess how these populations perceived and responded to the risk, and how the nature and scale of protection affected their clinical status, socio-epidemiological surveys were conducted on each island during the outbreaks. These surveys address three crucial and interconnected questions relevant to the period after persons infected by the virus were identified: which factors shape the risk of acquiring disease? Which socio- demographic characteristics and living conditions induce a higher likelihood of infection? What is the impact of risk perception on protective behaviours adopted against mosquito bites? Grounded on the results of these surveys, a general framework is proposed to help draw out the knowledge needed to reveal the factors associated with higher probability of infection as an outbreak emerges. The lessons learnt can inform health authorities' efforts to improve risk communication programmes, both in terms of the target and content of messages, so as to explore new strategies for ensuring sustainable protective behaviour. The authors compare three epidemics of vector-borne diseases to elucidate psychosocial factors that determine how populations perceive and respond to the risk of infectious disease.

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