Volume 97, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0002-9637
  • E-ISSN: 1476-1645



Human behaviors are increasingly recognized to play a key role in the spread of infectious diseases. Although a set of social and cognitive determinants has been consistently found to affect the adoption of health protective behaviors aiming to control and prevent a variety of infections, little is currently known about the ecological drivers of these behaviors in epidemic settings. In this article, we took advantage of the outbreak of chikungunya, a reemerging mosquito-borne disease, that occurred in French Guiana in 2014–15 to test empirically the assumption proposed by Zielinski-Gutierrez and Hayden that the proximity of the disease and perceptions of the natural environment may considerably shape public response to an emerging health threat. To achieve this, a cross-sectional survey was conducted among high school students of the region ( = 1462) at an early stage of the epidemic. Surprisingly, spatial analysis of the collected data leads to counterintuitive results as the participants who lived in the most affected area expressed less concern about the disease and practiced preventive behaviors less frequently than did other participants. These paradoxical results may be attributed to the possible activation of risk denial processes which have previously been observed in the risk perception literature, and described by several social and psychological defensiveness theories.

[open-access] This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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  • Received : 29 Dec 2016
  • Accepted : 01 May 2017
  • Published online : 12 Jun 2017

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