Category Archives: Public health

Addressing the controversy over ‘chronic Lyme disease’

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Image by Penn State via Flickr

Image by Penn State via Flickr

Covering Lyme disease can be a complicated endeavor. It’s hard to diagnose, and it’s even more difficult to decide what to call the ongoing symptoms. Janice Lynch Schuster reported on the controversy in The Washington Post, discussing both Lyme disease and its aftereffects.

According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by deer ticks (also known as blacklegged ticks), can cause fever, chills, and severe joint pain. However, detecting a tiny tick is a challenge, and the famous red bull’s-eye rash associated with Lyme-carrying tick bites doesn’t always occur. Many people suffer symptoms for months without a diagnosis, and those suffering the effects of Lyme disease are frequently brushed off by health care professionals, who dismiss symptoms as psychosomatic or stress-related.

As if that weren’t enough, the 300,000 people thought to be infected with Lyme disease each year may suffer chronic symptoms such as body pain or “brain fog” even after diagnosis and antibiotic treatment.  Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that 10 percent to 20 percent of people who are diagnosed with the disease and complete a two- to four-week course of antibiotics will “have lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches,” known as “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.”

However, other experts are quick to dismiss the idea of post-Lyme syndrome. It’s important for journalists writing about Lyme disease to understand the disagreement in the medical community over these lingering effects.

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Radio series looks beyond medical care for New York’s least healthy county

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to or tweet to @rojasburke.

Photo by Axel Drainville via Flickr.

Photo by Axel Drainville via Flickr.

The Bronx has ranked as the least-healthy county in New York State for several years running. The news team at WNYC wanted to find out if the Affordable Care Act or other recent policies were having any impact.

Heart disease, diabetes and asthma are unusually prevalent in the borough, where people also struggle with high unemployment and poor housing.

“People in the Bronx have excellent access to health care. So why are so many of them so sick?” one of the resulting news reports asked. Others explored the links between education, employment and health; whether housing should be considered health care; and how neighborhood conditions shape food choices.

WNYC reporter Amanda Aronczyk was new to health reporting when she got the assignment. We asked her to share how she juggled all the moving parts to sustain the deeply reported series that aired in June.

“The assignment was to report a series on health and health care in the Bronx between January and May, with an airdate at the beginning of June,” Aronczyk says. “I had about month to propose a package of stories.” Read more…

Adjusted risk pool has some rethinking cervical cancer rates

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at

What if experts wanted to figure out the rate of tonsil cancer, but forgot to exclude all the people who’d had their tonsils removed?

Those people are no longer at risk for tonsil cancer, and since there are more than half a million tonsillectomies performed each year in the U.S., counting them in the risk pool would dramatically dilute the true rate of the disease.

That’s what seems to have happened with cervical cancer, according to a thought-provoking new study published in the journal Cancer.

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Exploring risk factors, rates of suicide in seniors

Eileen Beal

About Eileen Beal

Eileen Beal, M.A., has been covering health care and aging since the late 1990s. She's written several health-related books. including "Age Well!" with geriatrician Robert Palmer, and her work has appeared in Aging Today, Arthritis Today,WebMD and other publications. She leads AHCJ's Cleveland chapter.

Jules Rosen, M.D., a certified geriatric psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Mind Springs Health, the largest provider of psychiatric services in western Colorado, recently answered some important questions about senior suicide.

What are the most common risk factors for suicide in older adults?

The biggest one is major depression.

Major depression [in older adults] is difficult to recognize and diagnose, especially in the primary care setting where most diagnosis is going to be done. That’s because older people don’t come in with the classic symptoms [of major depression], related to things like schizophrenia or substance abuse disorder, which are fairly easy to recognize. They come in with somatic and functional complaints. They say: “I’m sick. I’m tired all the time. I’m not enjoying things I used to.”

So many times I hear people say “I feel this way because I’m old” and it’s not that they are old, it’s that they are depressed.

So, how do potentially suicidal seniors get the “right” diagnosis?

To get an appropriate diagnosis, patients need a medical work-up – to see how their thyroid is doing, how their electrolytes are, what their vitamin D level looks like, and so on – but they need a psychological work-up, too, to find out why they are “sick” or “tired” of “not enjoying things.” Continue reading

Vulnerable seniors are going without vaccinations

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Eileen Beal

In the United States, far too many people – including many older adults – don’t get the vaccines they need to prevent getting and spreading preventable diseases.  In a recent CDC press release, Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H, says many people think “that infectious diseases are over in the industrialized world.”

However, global travel and trade can spread diseases quickly, leaving seniors vulnerable to infection. Here, Eileen Beal discusses the risks of not being vaccinated and the reasons seniors aren’t getting vaccinations, and also provides resources for people looking for more information on vaccines.

Getting the dirt on the allergy epidemic #ahcj14

Sandra Jordan

About Sandra Jordan

Sandra Jordan is a health reporter at the St. Louis American. She attended Health Journalism 2014 as an AHCJ-Ethnic Media Health Journalism Fellow, a program supported by the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Erwin Gelfand, M.D., chair of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, talks about environmental and behavioral factors behind allergies

Photo: Pia Christensen Erwin Gelfand, M.D., chair of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, talks about environmental and behavioral factors behind allergies

Are there more people with allergies, allergic responses, asthma and eczema than in years past? Is the environment the blame? The short answer is yes and yes.  However, there are other factors involved.

The panel discussion at Health Journalism 2014, “The Dirt on the Allergy Epidemic,” focused on causes and prevention of eczema, asthma and food allergies in children.

Since allergies were not prevalent 60 years ago, Erwin Gelfand, M.D., chair of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, said the difference points to environmental and behavioral factors.

“There is no doubt that the incidence of allergic diseases has increased and it can almost be traced five to six decades ago,” Gelfand said. “And the big question is; what changed that allowed this to go on?” Continue reading

Concerns over ‘fracking’ prompt research into health effects, occupational hazards #ahcj14

Tina Casagrand

About Tina Casagrand

Tina Casagrand is a freelance journalist in Jefferson City, Mo. She focused on investigative and environmental reporting at the Missouri School of Journalism and is a fellow at The Open Notebook. She attended Health Journalism 2014 as an AHCJ-Missouri Health Journalism Fellow, a program supported by the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Lee S. Newman, an environmental and occupational health physician of the Colorado School of Public Health, talks about the occupational hazards of fracking workers.

Photo: Tina Casagrand Lee S. Newman, an environmental and occupational health physician of the Colorado School of Public Health, talks about the occupational hazards of fracking workers.

Although 15 million Americans are now living less than a mile from natural gas wells, the research to evaluate any health hazards are thin.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of drilling into the earth and injecting water, chemicals and sand to release natural gas. The extensive use of fracking has revived the energy industry in U.S., but the practice has prompted environmental and public health concerns.

For instance, carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene, may escape and contaminate the groundwater around the fracking site and emit toxic substances into the air, said Cara DeGette, editor of Colorado Public News and moderator of the “Fracking, drilling, and other environmental health concerns” panel at Health Journalism 2014. Continue reading

Ingredients that make an athlete elite might surprise you #ahcj14

Kristofor Husted

About Kristofor Husted

Kristofor Husted is a multimedia journalist and filmmaker specializing in science, environmental and health reporting. He received his B.S. in cell biology from UC Davis and earned an M.S. in journalism from Medill at Northwestern University.

Barry Bonds may be the best in history at hitting a baseball* (I’ll put an asterisk on that for the haters), but that doesn’t mean he is better than you at, say, hitting a softball. Just ask U.S. Olympic softball pitcher Jennie Finch, who struck him out.

Elite athletes have spent thousands of hours perfecting a skill. For Bonds, it was reading hardball pitches, not softball pitches. Continue reading

Marijuana debate: Taxes, research and regulation #ahcj14

About April Dembosky

April Dembosky is a health reporter for The California Report at KQED public radio in San Francisco. She is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an 2014 AHCJ-California Health Journalism fellowship, which is supported by The California HealthCare Foundation.

Photo by Phil Galewitz

Photo by Phil Galewitz

Legalizing marijuana in Colorado has been a boon not just to people who want to use marijuana recreationally, but also to medical researchers who want to study its effects.

The state public health department wants to channel tax revenues from marijuana sales into human research trials — permitted by the new law — and plans to ask the state legislature for authority to spend $10 million on these studies. Continue reading

Media groups decry CDC’s silence on W.Va. spill; agency admits communication missteps

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is a member of AHCJ's board of directors, serving as vice chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a medical writer for The Providence (R.I.) Journal.

The recent chemical spill in West Virginia, which contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people, became another occasion when federal agencies shut the door on reporters seeking answers, fueling public anxiety with their silence.

But after complaints from journalism organizations, including AHCJ, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week issued a mea culpa and a pledge “to work to reach that critical balance between accuracy and timely release of information the public expects and needs to protect their health.”

The CDC told West Virginia health officials on Jan. 15 that pregnant women should not drink the water until the chemical, called Crude MCHM, was at “nondetectable levels.” Reporters from the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette had a lot of questions about this order – but could get no answers from the CDC press office. Continue reading