Monthly Archives: April 2014

Public Health, Preparedness, Social Media and…STI’s?

I know I’m all about some emergency management, but by nature of my job I’m also closely associated to public health.  And on top of that, I think everyone reading my blog knows how much I try to utilize the power of social media (see: Loyals, LLC – coming soon to a blog near you!)  So pardon me while I put these topics together and tie it all into zombie preparedness, won’t you?

Last weekend, an article came out in one of our big local newspapers.  It recapped the statistics regarding STI/STD rates within the City of Roanoke, which is one of the largest cities in southwest Virginia and a big part of my health districts I support through the Medical Reserve Corps.  The results were…not awesome. 


Omg….she is NOT writing about this!  – Your Teenagers

I won’t go into a lot of the statistics (mostly because it’s all in the article and I have other stuff to say!), but I will say that in the area for young people ages 15-24 (especially teens), sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea are up to twice as high as the rest of the state, and fourth in the state compared to other areas.  In southwest Virginia?!  Lots of teens are getting busy and few of them are finding out what their statuses are.  This is not okay. 

So what is promoting this behavior, how are we going to change the rate, and how am I actually going to tie this to zombies?  I’m glad you asked!

Now if you know me you will also know that I am NOT a public health guru.  I care, but I am an interested citizen and am not at all clinical.  That being said, I think it will be important for the public health folks I support to consider the impact that social media is having on these teens who are being exposed.  Sure, there is always going to be face-to-face communication, persuasion, teen dating and hook ups and so forth.  But now, with apps like Tinder and Hot or Not, teens are focusing solely on communicating through physical appearance and then connecting based on that alone.

Not familiar with these apps?  Allow me to give you the ultra brief overview!  Tinder is an app you leave on on your phone that alerts you when someone within a close (I believe no further than 60 miles or near that) radius “likes” you based on your picture.  You create matches and are able to chat with folks who are near to you…making those very dangerously-charged teen conversations extremely easy to act on.  Hot or Not is similar in the way you literally scroll through folks rating their appearance and when you are attracted to each other, you are connected to chat.  Are there other uses for some of these apps?  Absolutely!  Are teens looking for a local friend who also enjoys bird watching and photography?  Highly doubtful. 

The point of all of this is to highlight that social media has the power to be part of a problem.  A health problem at that, and as we all know, unhealthy communities are not resilient communities.  And every disaster has a health component.  This is a situation where the health component IS the disaster, but what we also need to realize is that social media can also be part of the solution if used properly…

If your audience is teens and you want them to be prepared, how are you going to communicate with them?  Consider the fact they don’t want to be embarrassed, might be in denial things can happen to them, and generally don’t seek out information on their own because they don’t know how and they don’t want their parents/friends/peers to know.  Consider the fact they’re already on social media, which is generally a private place to toss in snippets of information.  If I want to prepare a teen for anything, I’m going to jump in on apps like Vine, Twitter (and creatively, I’d accept the challenge to use things like Tinder and Hot or Not…) to give them a place to anonymously stumble upon and/or seek out the information they need to know about things like safety, how and where to obtain testing or free supplies and resources, what the rates are and what it means for them.

Imagine if the zombie apocalypse was spread like an STI.  Does that make you at all more interested in this topic?  You have a deadly disease scouring through your town.  It starts with teens.  It’s antibiotic resistant.  It’s taking lives.  If you’re supporting your public health folks, or if you are public health already, and you’re already learning how to connect with a specific audience about a specific topic, they’ll not only know how to find you when/if things become terribly worse…they’ll trust you with the information that is most important to their health and safety.

If you’re wondering what else I’m thinking – setups about STI’s and zombies so teens can approach something that potentially makes them uncomfortable or relate to something they’d otherwise ignore, create six second PSA’s with awareness and testing info on Vine in popular hashtags, target local teen topics on Twitter…and whatever else comes to mind that the powers that be will let me do.  And seeing how I don’t have all of the extra hours, or knowledge for that matter, I’ll probably engage my volunteers who are submitting their interest in supporting this outreach as we speak.  Errr….as I write.  And you read….

Preparedness is for all types of disasters, and there are a million ways to practice it.  Go out and play with your public health friends today and see what other ways you’ll be intersecting in the future.  Bring along some volunteers who may or may not be smarter than you…and then maybe tweet about how you did it?