It's not only what you say, it's also how you say it: Communicating nipah virus prevention messages during an outbreak in Bangladesh

Shahana Parveen, M. Saiful Islam, Momtaz Begum, Mahbub Ul Alam, Hossain M.S. Sazzad, Rebeca Sultana, Mahmudur Rahman, Emily S. Gurley, M. Jahangir Hossain, Stephen P. Luby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: During a fatal Nipah virus (NiV) outbreak in Bangladesh, residents rejected biomedical explanations of NiV transmission and treatment and lost trust in the public healthcare system. Field anthropologists developed and communicated a prevention strategy to bridge the gap between the biomedical and local explanation of the outbreak. Methods: We explored residents' beliefs and perceptions about the illness and care-seeking practices and explained prevention messages following an interactive strategy with the aid of photos showed the types of contact that can lead to NiV transmission from bats to humans by drinking raw date palm sap and from person-to-person. Results: The residents initially believed that the outbreak was caused by supernatural forces and continued drinking raw date palm sap despite messages from local health authorities to stop. Participants in community meetings stated that the initial messages did not explain that bats were the source of this virus. After our intervention, participants responded that they now understood how NiV could be transmitted and would abstain from raw sap consumption and maintain safer behaviours while caring for patients. Conclusions: During outbreaks, one-way behaviour change communication without meaningful causal explanations is unlikely to be effective. Based on the cultural context, interactive communication strategies in lay language with supporting evidence can make biomedical prevention messages credible in affected communities, even among those who initially invoke supernatural causal explanations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number726
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 5 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Anthropological approach
  • Bangladesh
  • Communication strategy
  • Contextual understanding
  • Nipah virus
  • Outbreak
  • Prevention messages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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