Public Health and Social Networking
Swine-flu vaccine was in the news again. Researchers at Novartis have started testing the vaccine, a necessary step before the public offering. Though the seasonal flu vaccine is proceeding on schedule, the H1N1 vaccine will be delayed until after the regular vaccine is released. By 31 July worldwide fatalities exceeded 1,100, and perhaps the vaccine will prevent the surge expected this fall. As the threat of swine flu slips from the forefront, are public health officials doing enough to stress the importance of vaccinating against the seasonal flu and H1N1?
While people have continued to contract H1N1 flu since the initial scare in the spring, the story no longer headlines the nightly news. Those who listen to NPR or read the health-and-science section of news publications have continued to hear about H1N1. But what about those people, equally at risk, who are out of the swine-flu news loop? Does the general public know that they continue to be at risk for contracting H1N1 and that this winter there will be two flu vaccines, not one?
Is social networking the answer to keeping people informed? The flu.gov Web site run by HHS is trying to keep people informed through Twitter. The CDC has emergency information given in Tweets. Both HHS and the CDC have YouTube channels, and the HHS is currently sponsoring a flu-prevention PSA contest.
While social networking and Web 2.0 work great for connecting with friends and colleagues, can it work for public health? The Chemical Heritage Foundation has a YouTube channel, over 300 Twitter followers, and even a Flickr photostream. But should sharing our upcoming events and collection items be conducted in the same venue in which people are reminded to get vaccinated? The Harvard School of Public Health thinks that social networking could be supportive of public-health change, according to one of their seminar series. We may have to wait and see.