Photograph of Aedes aegypti female mosquito biting.

Web Collecting During the Zika Outbreak

By Christie Moffatt ~

CDC: It's Mosquito Control Awareness Week! Learn how to control mosquitoes in and around your home.This week is “Mosquito Control Awareness week,” and agencies across the Department of Health and Human Services are taking this opportunity to share (and hoping that you’ll help re-share) guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on ways to control mosquitoes in and around your home, an important step in preventing mosquito bites and preventing the spread of the Zika virus. As of this writing, the CDC’s post of June 26 had been re-tweeted 151 times and favorited by 85, and similar Tweets have been posted by the NIH, CDC Director Tom Frieden, and others.  This is just one of several ways web and social media are being used to share health information with the public during this outbreak.

Back in February, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders in some areas affected by Zika a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” WHO announced this declaration to the public through their website and on Twitter. WHO followed the announcement with several Tweets providing information about the Zika virus to share widely what they knew about Zika at the time, and has continued to use social media and its website to provide information and updates on the Zika emergency.

WHO Tweet announcing PHEIC
View this tweet in the NLM Global Health Events Collection


World Health Organization website announcing PHEIC, Feb. 1, 2016


The CDC, also actively communicating information about Zika on web and social media, hosted a Twitter Chat soon after this announcement to “live Tweet” answers to questions from anyone using the hashtag #CDCChat and #Zika about the virus.


CDC tweets about mosquito species, how to prevent infection, and symptoms.
Selection from CDC Tweet Chat on February 12, 2016

Since February, the news and information about Zika virus has evolved, as has advice from health organizations: to the general public on the transmission of the virus, to women who are or plan to become pregnant, and to those who have traveled or plan to travel to affected areas, including to the upcoming Olympic Games in Brazil.  Web and social media is an essential part of the communication and discussion around this outbreak, and serves as a record of response and reaction to Zika’s spread. This content is at a high risk for loss for future researchers as content changes and web pages disappear well before their long term value is known, or perhaps even considered.

Photograph of Aedes aegypti female mosquito biting.
Aedes aegypti female mosquito feeding
Courtesy James Gathany, U.S. Centers for Disease Control #9533

The National Library of Medicine is collecting born-digital Web resources documenting the Zika virus, believing that this content will be valuable to future researchers that want to understand how public health information about the virus was communicated, how the news was reported, and the public’s response.  Collecting web and social media content about health events such as Zika is guided by the NLM Collection Development Guidelines, and part of NLM’s goal to collect works on all aspects of biomedicine and health care, regardless of format, and serve as the nation’s library of record in these areas.

Web collecting at NLM is carried out by the Library’s Web Collecting and Archiving Working Group, which is using the Disaster Information Management Resource Center’s Zika Virus Health Information Resource Guide as a starting point for identifying content to include in the collection.  This guide, prepared by experts in disaster information, serves as a core list of web resources related to Zika, including national and international organizations involved in the response, situation reports, and key social media feeds sharing news, information, and reactions to the outbreak. NLM is adding this content to the Library’s Global Health Events web archive collection, a collecting effort that began in October 2014 to gather and collect web content documenting the Ebola Outbreak.

Visitors can read about NLM’s Web Collecting efforts on Circulating Now and view a recorded History of Medicine Lecture “Future Historical Collections: Archiving the 2014 Ebola Outbreak” describing the effort to collect resources on Ebola, presented March 10, 2016 at the National Library of Medicine.

Christie in the NLM HMD reading room.Christie Moffatt is Manager of the Digital Manuscripts Program in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine and Chair of NLM’s Web Collecting and Archiving Working Group.


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