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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2018

Changes in risk perceptions during the 2014 Ebola virus disease epidemic: results of two consecutive surveys among the general population in Lower Saxony, Germany

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2018
Julie Obenauer, Nicole Rübsamen, Ekaterine Garsevanidze, André Karch, Rafael T. Mikolajczyk
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12889-018-5543-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



The Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak 2014 received extensive news media coverage, which faded out before the outbreak ended. News media coverage impacts risk perception; it is, however, unclear if the components of risk perception (affective and cognitive responses) change differently over time.


In an online panel, we asked participants (n = 1376) about EVD risk perceptions at the epidemic’s peak (November 2014) and after news media coverage faded out (August 2015). We investigated worry (affective response), perceived likelihood of infection, perceived personal impact, and coping efficacy (dimensions of cognitive response), and knowledge about transmission. Differences between the surveys with respect to manifestations of affective and cognitive dimensions were tested using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test. The association between individual change in knowledge and worries about EVD in the first survey was investigated using linear regression.


In November 2014, the survey was filled in by 974 participants. Ten months later, 662 of them were still members of the online panel and were invited to the follow-up survey. Among the 620 respondents, affective response decreased between the surveys. Knowledge about EVD also decreased; however, participants worried about EVD in 2014 had increased knowledge in 2015. Perceived likelihood of infection decreased over time, while perceived personal impact and coping efficacy did not.


Risk communication appealing to cognitive reactions by informing clearly on the risk of infection in unaffected countries may decrease inappropriate behaviors.
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