Clinical Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Dr. Alexis Merdjanoff is a scholar working at the intersection of public health and sociology. Her work primarily explores how social inequalities shape the impact of disaster on health, recovery, and resilience, particularly for vulnerable populations. She aims to reveal important contextual factors that can propel affected residents on different paths of post-disaster recovery. Her current research considers how exposure to traumatic events influences health over the life course.
As Director of Research for the Population Impact, Recovery and Resilience (PiR2) research program, she is working on several studies, including the longitudinal Katrina@10 Program, and the Sandy Child and Family Health (S-CAFH) Study to answer fundamental questions about improving the health and well-being of populations exposed to disaster. More recently, she has been working on two Zika virus studies: the Zika Risk Salience Study and the Zika Women’s Panel Study.
Dr. Merdjanoff frequently engages in mixed-methods research, including semi-structured in-depth interviewing, focus groups, and survey analysis. Trained as a sociologist, she believes in a holistic approach to answering questions surrounding health, disaster exposure, and recovery. Dr. Merdjanoff teaches several public health courses including, “Qualitative & Field Methods in Global Public Health,” and “Global Issues in Social & Behavioral Health.”
BS, Sociology (Magna Cum Laude), New York University, New York, NYMA, Sociology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJPhD, Sociology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Best Dissertation in Mental Health, American Sociological Association, Sociology of Mental Health section (2016)Anne Foner Dissertation Prize, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University (2016)Matilda White Riley Published Article Award for Outstanding Journal Article, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University (2013)Weather & Society Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) Fellow (2011)Graduate School Special Study Award, Rutgers University (2011)
Aging and the Life CourseDisaster Impact and RecoveryHousing StabilityMental HealthSocial Determinants of Health
How the US Population Engaged with and Prioritized Sources of Information about the Emerging Zika Virus in 2016Piltch-Loeb, R., Merdjanoff, A. A., & Abramson, D. M.
Journal titleHealth Security
Page(s)165-177Emerging disease threats like Zika pose a risk to naïve populations. In comparison to chronic diseases, there is scientific uncertainty surrounding emerging diseases because of the lack of medical and public health information available as the threat emerges. Further complicating this are the multiple, diverse channels through which people get information. This article used bivariate and multivariate analysis to first describe the breadth of information sources individuals accessed about the Zika virus, and then describe individuals' primary sources of information for Zika using a nationally representative pooled cross-sectional data set collected at 3 time points in 2016 (N = 3,698). The analysis also highlights how 3 subgroups - high-education, high-income adults; Hispanic women of childbearing age; and retirees over the age of 65 with less than a high school education - varied in their use of information. Results suggest individuals accessed multiple sources, but TV and radio were the primary sources of Zika information for the public, followed by print news. Demographic variation in primary source of information means public health officials should consider alternative channels to reach target groups in an emerging event. Without an understanding of how information has reached people, and who individuals engaged with regarding that information, public health practitioners are missing a key piece of the puzzle to improving public health campaigns during a future event like Zika. This analysis aims to inform the public health community about the message channels the US population uses during an emerging disease event and the most prevalent channels for different demographic groups, who can be targeted with particular messaging.
Risk salience of a novel virus: US population risk perception, knowledge, and receptivity to public health interventions regarding the Zika virus prior to local transmissionPiltch-Loeb, R., Abramson, D. M., & Merdjanoff, A. A.
Journal titlePLoS ONE
Issue12Background As the incidence of Zika infection accelerated in Central and South American countries from November 2015 through April 2016, U.S. public health officials developed vector control and risk communication strategies to address mosquito-borne and sexual modes of transmission. This study reports upon U.S. perceptions of the Zika virus prior to domestic transmission, and analyzes the association of socio-economic, political, knowledge and risk factors with population receptivity to selected behavioral, environmental, and clinical intervention strategies. Methods A representative sample of 1,233 U.S. residents was drawn from address-based telephone and mobile phone lists, including an oversample of 208 women of child-bearing age living in five U.S. southern states. Data were collected between April and June, 2016, and weighted to represent U.S. population distributions. Results Overall, 78% of the U.S. population was aware of Zika prior to domestic transmission. Those unaware of the novel virus were more likely to be younger, lower income, and of Hispanic ethnicity. Among those aware of Zika, over half would delay pregnancy for a year or more in response to public health warnings; approximately one third agreed with a possible vector-control strategy of targeted indoor spraying by the government; and nearly two-thirds agreed that the government should make pregnancy-termination services available to women who learn their fetus had a Zika-related birth defect. Receptivity to these public health interventions varied by age, risk perception, and knowledge of the virus. Conclusion Risk salience and population receptivity to public health interventions targeting a novel virus can be conditioned on pre-existing characteristics in the event of an emerging infectious disease. Risk communicators should consider targeted strategies to encourage adoption of behavioral, environmental, and clinical interventions.
Disaster planning for vulnerable populations: Leveraging community human service organizations direct service delivery personnelLevin, K. L., Berliner, M., & Merdjanoff, A.
Journal titleJournal of Public Health Management and Practice
Volume20Introduction: Given the variability, complexities, and available resources for local vulnerable populations, it is clear that preparing effectively for catastrophic events cannot be accomplished with a single, simple template. Inclusion of Community Human Service Organizations' (CHSO's) direct service delivery personnel ensures that emergency disaster planning efforts for vulnerable populations are effective and responsive to unique needs and constraints. By leveraging existing local resources, it extends the preparedness system's reach to the whole community. Background: CHSO personnel already perform community-based services and directly engage with vulnerable and special needs populations; typically they are on the front lines during an emergency event. Generally, however, the CHSOs, staff, and clients are neither adequately prepared for disasters nor well integrated into emergency systems. To address preparedness gaps identified during Hurricane Sandy, regional CHSO and local health department partners requested that the Columbia Regional Learning Center provide preparedness trainings for their agencies and staff responsible for vulnerable clients. Methods: Evaluation of this initiative was begun with a mixed-methods approach consisting of collaborative learning activities, a function-based assessment tool, and a 5 Steps to Preparedness module. Results: Results from a survey were inclusive because of a low response rate but suggested satisfaction with the training format and content; increases in awareness of a client preparedness role; and steps toward improved personal, agency, and client preparedness. Discussion: Direct service delivery personnel can leverage routine client interactions for preparedness planning and thus can contribute significantly to vulnerable population and community disaster readiness. Trainings that provide preparedness tools can help support this role. Lessons Learned: CHSO personnel are knowledgeable and have the expertise to assist clients in personal preparedness planning; yet, there are challenges around their ability and willingness to take on additional responsibilities.
There's no place like home: Examining the emotional consequences of Hurricane Katrina on the displaced residents of New OrleansMerdjanoff, A. A.
Journal titleSocial Science Research
Page(s)1222-1235Using survey data from the Displaced New Orleans Residents Pilot Study (DNORPS), I examine the emotional consequences of Hurricane Katrina on the displaced residents of New Orleans. First, I employ an established framework within disaster research to investigate whether the stress level of displaced residents varies by race, income, and gender. As the residents in this dataset remained uprooted from their homes, I also examine three housing variables, including homeownership status, house type, and four levels of home damage. Contrary to previous research, home damage and homeownership status are significant predictors of displaced residents' emotional distress while the effect of race disappears. These findings suggest that future research on the mental health of disaster survivors, especially for displaced residents, expand the traditional analytical framework to consistently include housing variables, especially different categories of home damage, in addition to race, income, and gender.