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Biosecur Bioterror. 2004;2(3):216-23.

Public perceptions and risk communications for botulism.

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  • 1Department of Community Health Sciences, UCLA School of Public Health, Health and Media Research Group, Los Angeles, California 90095-17722, USA.


Formative research findings from 10 focus group interviews on botulism are described. Data were collected from a diverse sample of people throughout the United States in 2003, as part of a collaborative multisite initiative sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve communications materials on bioterrorism agents. Focus group guides included questions on knowledge, action, emotions, and information seeking in response to a series of scenarios on a hypothetical terrorist attack using botulinum toxin. Data were collected, transcribed, coded, and analyzed using content domains based on risk and health communications theories. Initial participant responses to scenarios were emotional, changing into immediate health and survival concerns conceptualized as information specific to the agent and event. Knowledge about botulism was low, and participants wanted clear, concise, and actionable messages. Broadcast media, the internet, and community-based sources were cited as sources of information. Findings have implications for botulism preparedness messages and for general public risk communications.

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