George Mason University
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George Mason University

GCH Students and Faculty Assess Knowledge, Attitudes, and Sources of Information on Zika Virus

February 6, 2018

GCH students Ashley Plaster and Dylan Tjersland have had their paper, “University students’ knowledge, attitudes, and sources of information about Zika virus” published in the Journal of Community Health. Fetal exposure to Zika virus is associated with an increased risk of birth defects and other adverse pregnancy outcomes, and the virus can be contracted through mosquito bites and through sexual contact.

As part of a project led by GCH Assistant Professor Julia E. Painter in collaboration with GCH Professor Kathryn H. Jacobsen, Ashley and Dylan helped collect and analyze data from more than 600 George Mason University students during the weeks immediately after the World Health Organization declared Zika virus to be an international public health emergency in 2016.

The study found significant gaps in knowledge about Zika virus and misperceptions about personal susceptibility. The information the survey yielded about the preferred sources of information about emerging infectious diseases and other public health crises will be a valuable foundation for the development of evidence-based health education interventions for college and university students.

Both Ashley and Dylan were undergraduate students when they started working on this project. Ashley has since earned a B.S. in neuroscience with minors in public health and biology, and she is now enrolled in Mason’s M.P.H. with a concentration in epidemiology. “This project enabled me to gain valuable experience in infectious disease epidemiology,” she reports, “and the skills I gained in study design, data analysis with SPSS, and scientific communication are ones I know I’ll use in the future when I’m working as a public health professional.”

Dylan is a senior B.S. in community health student pursuing a clinical science concentration, and he has started taking graduate courses through Mason’s accelerated MPH program. “Before I began working on this research project, I did not know what type of health science field I wanted to specialize in,” he recalls, “but after this study I know I want to work in infectious disease epidemiology.”

This is the second paper published by the team. Ashley and Dylan were also coauthors on the paper “Zika virus knowledge, attitudes, and vaccine interest among university students,” which was published in the journal Vaccine in 2017.

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