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How text messaging informs travellers & helps prevent further spread of Zika

In spring 2016, the widespread outbreak of Zika was declared a global public health emergency. Across the Americas, the mosquito-born virus spread to over 1.5 million people and was linked to over 3,500 birth defects in newborn babies.

As the Zika virus spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked around the clock. From developing tests to diagnose Zika to monitoring and reporting cases worldwide, the CDC has been committed to addressing the outbreak.

And as details relating to Zika continued to evolve, the CDC needed a way to communicate with the public quickly, connecting them to information that would help keep them informed and safe.

“The recent Zika outbreak prompted us to think about how we’re communicating with travellers during this time to prevent any further spread of the virus” said Carolina Uribe, Public Health Advisor at the CDC. “We put ourselves in travellers’ shoes and came up with an idea”.

The CDC set up an Interactive Text platform with GovDelivery that arms US travellers with information on Zika prevention, transmission and recommendations before and after travel.

Participants can opt in with their mobile phone by texting one of three designated opt-in words: PLAN, TRIP or HOME. The user is then prompted to indicate what country they are travelling to (also includes all 50 US states). For those who are travelling to a country with a Zika outbreak, they are then provided with awareness and prevention messaging before, during and after travel.

Here is how the text conversation with the CDC works:

Zika messaging plan

With over 5 billion mobile phone users around the world, and at least 97 percent of Americans texting at least once a day, connecting with mobile users was the most efficient and impactful way for the CDC to engage with users as they are planning for or travelling to/from a country with Zika.

“Sending travellers messaging on prevention – using mosquito repellent, wearing long sleeves or pants, etc. – is important for us to send to travellers where they are, which is usually on their phone when travelling”, said Uribe.

So far, over 4,500 subscribers have signed on to receive updates from the CDC on the Interactive Text platform, and engagement has been sustained at above-normal levels.

“With Interactive Text, we have the ability to send text messages to travellers who have subscribed for Zika-related information, but we’re also in a position where we could communicate on an emergency quickly with subscribers if we needed to”, Carolina explained.

The texting service is also available in Spanish for travellers which is important for the CDC’s audience.

By stepping into their audience’s shoes, the CDC recognised that travellers should be able to receive personalised information of direct relevance to their travels. Text messaging helped them develop a framework for what was absolutely necessary for subscribers to know. The targeted messaging has resulted in high engagement due to the opt-in nature of the platform.

“A disease can get anywhere in the world within 24 hours, so having this first line of connection with travellers to educate them on what they can do to prevent further spreading is really important to us”, said Uribe. “This is changing the way we connect with our audience, which may be something we look at doing permanently”.


Is your organisation interested in adopting a similar approach to government-citizen communications? For more information about GovDelivery’s Interactive Text solution, please get in touch.