The Oregon Health Authority is trying a new approach this holiday season to warn people about the dangers of salmonella, Twitter.


There is currently a national salmonella outbreak linked to turkey. So far, the illness has affected 164 people in 35 states, including Oregon. The outbreak comes just in time for Thanksgiving, where turkey is a popular main dish.


Salmonella is a food-borne illness often found in poultry. To avoid spreading the infection, proper cooking and cleaning techniques need to be followed, such as having a separate cutting board for different types of meat, keeping foods properly refrigerated and cooking foods to a safe internal temperature. Around 400 to 500 cases of salmonella are reported in Oregon every year. Nationwide, the illness leads to 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths.


To fight the risk, the Oregon Health Authority has launched a humor Twitter account, @SalmonellaOR. The account poses as the virus and replies to people who have mentioned turkey or Thanksgiving with tips on how to avoid the illness, posed as ways to catch the disease, such as this reply: “Sure, you could thaw it the “right” way over 1-6 days in the fridge or 2-12 hours in cold water. Or you could thaw it my favorite way: on the counter. Who doesn’t love a round of the #Thanksgiving classic: “Am I going to get food poisoning from this?”


The account is based in part on the Australian “Melanoma likes me” campaign. Health officials used Instagram to track hashtags and locations and responded to people posting pictures of them in the sunshine. The campaign won awards for its viral marketing and resulted in a 1371% increase in unique visitors to the Skincheck mobile website.


Using humor to get people to pay attention to serious messages is a new trend for health officials. It can be a risky approach, but it tends to capture peoples attention and shine a light on serious health risks. In the age of social media, standard public service announcements don’t stand out, meaning a unique approach is needed. While some communication officials warn that people may take the message less seriously because of the format, others believe a humorous approach helps people to feel more comfortable with what can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic.


The OHA plans to use the account throughout the holiday season, before taking a break and starting back up during the summer grilling season.