While the world is gripped by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, other emerging infectious diseases also remain public health threats having the potential to disrupt daily lives. In recent years, Chagas disease, traditionally endemic in Latin America, especially in rural areas where there is high poverty, has made its way to the United States. It is estimated that at least 300,000 people live with Chagas disease in the United States. This study discussed the motivations that attract social media users to YouTube as well as their health belief towards Chagas disease, and how health communication experts can take advantage of various message appeals while conducting health campaigns.   

This study employed Uses and Gratification Theory (UGT), Health Belief Model (HBM) and a mix of social media analytics, and content analysis to highlight the important role of social media in health communication. A total of 602 comments posted by YouTube users as they interacted with news items reporting on Chagas disease were thus analyzed. A web-based software called Netlytic was used to capture and conduct text analytics. The sentiment of user comments on each of the five videos selected for this analysis was measured using SentiStrength.

The study found out that YouTube comments associated with Chagas disease news information that elicited active engagement amongst YouTube users were appreciative, had an element of sympathy, emotional appeal, or were entertaining. 11% of YouTube users had personal experiences with the deadly kissing bugs. Lack of public understanding about Chagas disease necessitated 20% of YouTube users to seek additional information on how to diagnose, prevent, and cure Chagas disease after watching the YouTube videos. In as much as 24% of the YouTube comments were supportive and appreciative of the information about Chagas disease disseminated through the videos, 8% were highly critical of the videos. Unfortunately, 3% of the comments had xenophobic sentiments. However, more than half of the comments were neutral (54.7%). In addition, 82% of YouTube comments had no information about the susceptibility to Chagas disease and thus failed to indicate that Chagas disease is also a threat to residents of the United States.

This study highlighted the great potential for YouTube as a tool for health communication. Significant number of YouTube users in this study had low awareness about the effectiveness of the prevention strategies employed to prevent the spread of the Kissing bug as well as their susceptibility to Chagas disease. This calls for more sustained awareness raising activities since Chagas disease is also a threat to residents of the United States. Sustained health communication campaigns that target policymakers will lead to improvement of the implementation, coverage, access, and quality of health care for Chagas disease patients, including early diagnosis and treatment interventions. Health communication practitioners have been the go-to source for health information, especially of neglected tropical diseases such as Chagas. However, due to the current digital age and concomitant proliferation of social media platforms such as YouTube, social media users affected or living within disease prone environments have turned to social media including YouTube to seek as well as share information about diseases. This change of information landscape necessitates the use of YouTube by health communication professionals as a channel for health communication campaigns.  

Following is the link to the research study: https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2020.1858561

The study can be cited as follows:

Otieno, A. W.,  Roark, J., Khan, M. Laeeq, Pant, S., Grijalva, M. J., & Titsworth, Scott, (2020). The kiss of death – Unearthing conversations surrounding Chagas disease on YouTube, Cogent Social Sciences, 7:1, 1858561, https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2020.1858561