There is an urgent need to understand how the provision of information influences individual risk perception and how this in turn shapes the evolution of epidemics. Individuals are influenced by information in complex and unpredictable ways. Emerging infectious diseases, such as the recent swine flu epidemic, may be particular hotspots for a media-fueled rush to vaccination; conversely, seasonal diseases may receive little media attention, despite their high mortality rate, due to their perceived lack of newness.
We formulate a deterministic transmission and vaccination model to investigate the effects of media coverage on the transmission dynamics of influenza. The population is subdivided into different classes according to their disease status. The compartmental model includes the effect of media coverage on reporting the number of infections as well as the number of individuals successfully vaccinated.
A threshold parameter (the basic reproductive ratio) is analytically derived and used to discuss the local stability of the disease-free steady state. The impact of costs that can be incurred, which include vaccination, education, implementation and campaigns on media coverage, are also investigated using optimal control theory. A simplified version of the model with pulse vaccination shows that the media can trigger a vaccinating panic if the vaccine is imperfect and simplified messages result in the vaccinated mixing with the infectives without regard to disease risk.
The effects of media on an outbreak are complex. Simplified understandings of disease epidemiology, propogated through media soundbites, may make the disease significantly worse.