Who Ya Gonna Call?

Today Mashable carried an article entitled “Twitter’s Surprising Reaction to Meningitis Outbreak” that reported that as the meningitis outbreak associated with a contaminated steroid product unfolds, users of Twitter were more often searching for CDC than FDA. The fact that the general public – at least as represented by Twitter searches – look to CDC more often than FDA in this circumstance is interesting, but perhaps not surprising when one really thinks about the nature of the two agencies.

Consider first, CDC is likely to be considered the guardian of the public’s health perhaps more than any other agency when it comes to disease prevention and works hand in hand with FDA whenever an issue emerges over one of the products regulated by the latter.  For example, when there is a food-borne outbreak, CDC may detect and track illnesses associated with the contamination while FDA will work to investigate and contain the spread.  When the issue is a drug rather than a food that is the source of illness, the same would apply.  When seeking information about the condition caused by the outbreak one would naturally seek out the agency that is associated with disease (i.e. the agency with the word “disease” in its name).  When seeking information about the product that is the subject matter involving the outbreak – either food or drug – one would naturally seek out the agency that regulates them (and has those words in its name as well) .

A second factor is that CDC’s communications agenda is more focused and straddles fewer stakeholders than FDA’s.  CDC has a large focus on the public, while FDA must straddle audiences ranging from the public to manufacturers of a huge span of products covering one-quarter of the economy.

Lastly, a recent review in September done here of federal public health agencies influence on Twitter, as measured by KRED, demonstrated that CDC has acquired a good deal of influence on Twitter – more than any other federal health agency, which should also not be too surprising given the CDC’s willingness to push the communications envelope with efforts such as Preparedness 101:  Zombie Apocolypse.

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