“Fight the Bite! Join the ‘Swat Team’ Against West Nile Virus” is an educational campaign that gives individuals practical tips to eliminate mosquitoes and use personal protection to prevent infection with West Nile virus (WNV). The goal is to prevent the spread of this illness and protect human lives.
The project increased awareness of the seriousness of West Nile virus among Colorado residents and tourists, yet reduced anxiety by offering specific solutions for prevention and protection. The outcome of this campaign is the distribution of over one million educational wallet cards, extensive coverage of West Nile virus by the media, and over 150,000 downloads of fact sheets from the website, www.FightTheBiteColorado.com. Daily newspaper articles reached over 1.4 million readers, with television broadcasts reaching 690,000 households. The Fight the Bite website was also linked from all newspaper and television station websites. Thanks to extensive media coverage, it is believed believe that 100% of the four million residents of Colorado have a basic awareness of West Nile virus. It is intended that the department will utilize this campaign every year during mosquito season.
The key elements needed to replicate this practice are cohesiveness among state and local public health agencies, quality educational materials, good media relations, and a network of community partners. To share what works, the department has given written permission to numerous other state and local agencies to use the copyrighted materials for their own West Nile virus prevention campaigns.
The Fight the Bite Colorado campaign consists of four elements: educational print materials, a comprehensive website, extensive media relations and a statewide network of community partnerships. Everything was created with input from other agencies and community groups, resulting in a consistent message and extensive statewide participation.
Tri-County Health Department is the largest local health department in Colorado, with a population of one million residents of suburban Denver–25% of the state’s population. The Public Information Officer (PIO) of Tri-County Health has an advertising and graphic design background, and was chairperson of the statewide WNV education committee. He created the Fight the Bite print campaign and website. The PIO designed a bold image in comic book illustration style, with the mosquito “villain” trapped within an international “No” symbol. The supporting text urges citizens to become members of the “Swat Team” against West Nile virus, and learn ways to protect themselves from the disease.
Tri-County Health Department worked closely with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE). They coordinated the statewide network of local public health agencies and county nursing services that were vital to the widespread success of the campaign. CDPHE hosted weekly statewide conference calls on the progression of WNV, and we received feedback which was used to revise media messages and website information. Their staff produced news releases, provided daily human case updates for the website and the media, and distributed the print materials statewide.
Costs and ExpendituresState and local public health agencies contributed a combined total of $12,000, which was used to print full-color educational materials including 10,000 posters, 150,000 brochures and 250,000 wallet cards. Additional printing has resulted in the distribution of over 1,000,000 cards statewide. The full-color plastic-coated cards are very cost effective yet durable, costing about 1.5 cents each. Stakeholders are given all print materials free-of-charge. Free downloadable graphics also inspired local communities to tailor materials for their own needs including T-shirts, lapel buttons, refrigerator magnets, door hangers, kid’s coloring page—and the most unique solution—a marching “Swat Team” in a local parade. A television crew donated their services to produce a half-hour program and 30-second public services announcements. Campaign materials were created in about four months, using approximately 50% of a Full-Time Employee (FTE) at Tri-County Health Department. Maintenance of the website and media coordination now uses less than 10% FTE during mosquito season.
ImplementationUtilizing his graphics background, the PIO designed the “no mosquito” logo and supervised an illustrator to produce a computerized version. The PIO then wrote copy, created camera-ready artwork and built the website in-house.
One of the major successes of this campaign is the network of non-health agencies that distributed the materials statewide and helped tailor the educational messages to their local community. These supporters include local government agencies, elected officials, community organizations, environmentalists, schools, scouts, religious institutions, agricultural and migrant workers, homeowners associations, and people in the field including parks and recreation, public works, code enforcement, and animal control employees.
From May through September, educational materials were provided at health clinics, distributed by rangers at state parks and included with hunting and fishing permits, offered at county fairs and community meetings, posted in schools and nursing homes, given out at golf courses and distributed door-to-door in high-infestation areas.
The final benefit of this campaign is an extensive network of people and agencies that support public health activities. The program is utilizing these connections for more public health concerns: emergency preparedness planning, influenza season updates and a statewide children’s immunization campaign.
The CDPHE also continues to support the campaign by funding an InfoLine, weekly conference calls, print materials and news releases. The Executive Directors of local public health agencies continue to be spokespersons for newspaper and television interviews. Community partnerships and distribution remain solid since others recognize the value of this program to their own agency or business.