The Zika Virus is now on our radar screen. We see heartbreaking images of infants born with hydrocephaly – we hear of thousands of these afflicted babies born to poverty stricken women in Brazil. Then we hear of Zika found in Florida or Texas. Something about sexual transmission. And now more about possible eye afflictions caused by the virus.
It’s the perfect storm of risk:
- dreaded condition
- uncertain scientific
- no remedy
Amidst this environment the NYT is promoting a frequently asked questions section devoted to Zika Virus.
So I checked out how a trusted source is explaining the Zika Virus to readers. Here’s the first paragraph of the response to the first question posed: What is the Zika Virus?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus. Although it was discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 and is common in Africa and Asia, it did not begin spreading widely in the Western Hemisphere until last May, when an outbreak occurred in Brazil.
Here are some of the reasons why this text is not going to help most of the people who read it.
It certainly is not aimed at the 50% of adults in the US who are low health literate.
- An “infection” – very vague. Bacterial? Viral? And about 40% of adults don’t know the difference between a virus and a bacteria.
- It devotes a whole paragraph to information the health consumer is not looking for – its history in Uganda in the 1940s.
- It assumes most people know what dengue & yellow fever are and why the reference is important
- It does not address why it’s so dangerous to public health when “new” viruses appear in a region. It assumes readers know that a population does not have antibodies or a vaccine to fight off the new virus.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…