Health literacy and infectious diseases: Why does it matter?

Enrique Castro-Sánchez, Peter W.S. Chang, Rafael Vila-Candel, Angel A. Escobedo, Alison H. Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Multifactorial interventions are crucial to arrest the threat posed by infectious diseases. Public involvement requires adequate information, but determinants such as health literacy can impact on the effective use of such knowledge. The influence of health literacy on infectious diseases is examined in this paper. Methods: Databases were searched from January 1999 through July 2015 seeking studies reporting on health literacy and infections such tuberculosis, malaria, and influenza, and infection-related behaviours such as vaccination and hand hygiene. HIV was excluded, as comprehensive reviews have already been published. Results: Studies were found on antibiotic knowledge and use, the adoption of influenza and MMR immunizations, and screening for sexually transmitted and viral hepatitis infections. There was a lack of investigations on areas such as tuberculosis, malaria, hand hygiene, and diarrhoeal diseases. Conclusions: Limited or insufficient health literacy was associated with reduced adoption of protective behaviours such as immunization, and an inadequate understanding of antibiotics, although the relationship was not consistent. Large gaps remain in relation to infectious diseases with a high clinical and societal impact, such as tuberculosis and malaria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-110
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Infectious Diseases
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2016


  • Health communication
  • Health literacy
  • Infectious diseases
  • Self-efficacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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