The US Centres for Disease Control is to use online social media tools, including Twitter and YouTube, to help spread flu-protection messages.

According to an Information Week report, the federal agency, which is responsible for heading up responses to pandemics, is preparing to make use of a range of communication channels to head off the spread of H1N1.

The agency is planning to make use of Twitter, YouTube videos and text messaging, alongside more traditional tools such as email bulletins. The goal is to saturate the internet with information about how people can protect themselves against the virus.

The CDC is gearing up its efforts with the approach of autumn, which is traditionally flu season. The guiding idea behind its campaign is put information on other web sites, rather than relying on people to come to for information.

Janice Nall, director of the CDC’s e-health marketing division, told Information Week: "We’re trying to reach people where they are, not necessarily expecting them to come to us," she said. "All of our distribution is on channels that people are already using."

The agency has had some good experience with this approach, Nall said. "H1N1 videos on have gotten about 100,000 page views, but the same videos on YouTube got 2.01m views."

In addition, the CDC has gathered 700,000 followers on Twitter. The agency has a federal employee mailing list for H1N1 alerts with more than 200,000 subscribers. 

It is also developing tools to send alerts out to all government e-mail list subscribers, currently standing at 13m addresses. Other elements of the online communications strategy include widgets and content syndication.

The CDC is distributing graphical buttons reminding people to take basic health precautions, such as covering their mouths when they cough. People can embed the buttons on social networking sites, including MySpace and Facebook.