Psychogenic illness is recognized as a potentially major factor in bioterrorism and pandemic. It is defined as the onset of physical and mental symptoms due to perceived exposure to a biological/toxic agent in the context of social contagion including when there is no bone fide exposure. The psychogenic response has been described as """"""""a monsoon of the worried well"""""""" in some situations, such as the sarin release in the Tokyo subway system in 1995 in which Tokyo hospitals were overwhelmed. Apart from """"""""post mortem"""""""" observational analyses of such spontaneous events in the community, there is no research on the phenomenon to inform public health efforts for improving preparedness and management in the event of a large scale biological event. Public health messages and media coverage are believed to be powerful determinants of individuals'assessment of risk and perception of symptoms. In the context of an influenza pandemic or other biological event, especially with significant mortality, the manner in which information is communicated to public health officials, health care providers, media organizations and the public could have enormous implications for social control, hospital surge, and utilization of limited medical resources. Consequently, investigation of communication factors that increase and decrease the public's response could yield important guidelines for public health agencies. It is very difficult to conduct rigorous research during an actual biological disaster, and experimental designs are almost impossible to implement. The proposed research is innovative as it is designed to be a proof of concept project to demonstrate that psychogenic illness can be induced experimentally. Specifically, this application will develop an experimental paradigm for inducing psychogenic illness in a community sample in a controlled, non-disaster setting. This will set the stage for experimental work to evaluate interventions for use during preparedness efforts and during biological disasters.

Public Health Relevance

Psychogenic illness is recognized as a potentially major factor in bioterrorism and pandemic impacting triage and hospital surge. It is expected that the quality of public health messages can increase or decrease the severity of psychogenic illness. This research is designed to develop a research model to study psychogenic illness to test and refine such messages. It holds the potential to better prepare and manage this substantial public health challenge.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Library of Medicine (NLM)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Biomedical Library and Informatics Review Committee (BLR)
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Sim, Hua-Chuan
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State University New York Stony Brook
Schools of Medicine
Stony Brook
United States
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Bass, Elizabeth; Kaplan-Liss, Evonne; Dorf, Dennis et al. (2012) A challenging empirical question: What are the effects of media on psychogenic illness during a community crisis? J Community Med Health Educ 2:
Broderick, Joan E; Kaplan-Liss, Evonne; Bass, Elizabeth (2011) Experimental induction of psychogenic illness in the context of a medical event and media exposure. Am J Disaster Med 6:163-72