July 8 (UPI) -- People who see educational messages on social media and in the news about the importance of hand-washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are up to twice as likely to engage in the practices, according to a study published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open.
Those who viewed the messaging, which included a video and a newspaper article with "infographics," were up to 50 percent more likely to avoid touching their face -- which can also limit virus transmission -- the researchers found.
"[Our] findings suggest that an evidence-based, large-scale public health campaign, distributed by a news media platform and social influencer, was associated with better personal hygiene," the authors wrote.
More than 17,000 people participated in the study, which was conducted in the Netherlands in March and April. Researchers at VU University in the Netherlands, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and Duke University contributed to the new paper.
Roughly half of the participants were shown an article -- with graphics -- from a major newspaper with information on hand-washing, social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention measures, a video produced by a social media influencer that provided guidance on these same measures or both, the researchers said.
The rest of the participants did not see these messages, they said.
All study participants were surveyed on their own hand-washing, social distancing and face-touching habits, according to the researchers. Those who saw one or both of the messaging platforms were surveyed before and after they did so, the researchers said.
Participants who saw the newspaper article and social media video were more than twice as likely to engage in recommended hand-washing practices, while those who saw the social media video alone were 31 percent more likely to do so, the study found.
Participants with COVID-19 symptoms were 10 percent more likely to practice social distancing after seeing both the social media video and the newspaper article, according to the researchers.
Participants who saw the article were 30 percent more likely to reduce face-touching, while those who saw both messages were 50 percent more likely to do so, the researchers said.
Dr. Mark McClellan, director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, believes similar outreach efforts can improve compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing in the United States, which is currently seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country.
"For people who are younger, they probably need to be hearing this, not just from government officials but from people who are in their circles, their influencers, people who they respect," said McClellan, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under President George W. Bush.
McClellan, who was not part of the Netherlands study, was speaking to reporters on a conference call June 30.
"What [Americans] do with their actions, for the next few months, for the next six months, really is going to save lives if they take these steps," he said. "The models show that [if] we get quite high rates of people following basic steps -- distancing, using a mask, washing hands, staying home -- for the next six months, we would contain the pandemic."