Sometimes it’s difficult to get a handle on major health determinants in your community, and it’s even harder to make them come alive in a story. Straightforward statistics can be dry or intimidating, while percentages and frequencies might fail to resonate.
So how can you give your readers, viewers or listeners a little extra background information without boring them to sleep? Interactive atlases are an effective way to do this – they can provide stories with both images and some enriched perspective. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and mapping tools like the CDC Diabetes Atlas provide a visual representation of diabetes in the U.S. The Diabetes Atlas helps to illustrate both diabetes and its many determinants using four indicators:
- Diagnosed diabetes
- Diagnosed diabetes incidence
- Leisure-time physical inactivity
If you’ve ever wondered about the real impact of those little black-and-white nutrition labels, or felt that perhaps food labeling could be more meaningful, consider the results of a new study, published recently in The American Journal of Public Health.
A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wanted to know what makes people change their habits – specifically, low-income black adolescents. In 2012 – the most recent year of CDC data – obesity was more prevalent among both African-Americans and low-income groups than the general population. (But remember that the relationship between income and obesity varies by poverty level, gender and race is a complicated one.)
The season of coughing is around the corner. Ads for flu shots and other vaccinations are getting thicker too. Vaccinations for older adults have new developments this year. A great place to start is this tip sheet from Eileen Beal.
Herd immunity: When writing about vaccines for a certain age group, remember that your audience is not just that group. Communities are protected by the entire immunity of their neighbors and friends. Elders housed in assisted living or nursing homes are at special risk. But college student volunteers, visitors, and grandchildren may need to read your story to avoid unwittingly exposing these older adults. This works backwards also. Older adults who lack up-to-date immunization for whooping cough (pertussis) can expose a newborn when Grandma and Grandpa visit. The booster that many may need is called T-DAP. Continue reading
Image by NIAID via Flickr
Word choice matters, especially when it comes to covering a deadly disease.
You may have heard the terms “infectious” and “contagious” being used interchangeably in Ebola stories. Even health professionals sometimes use them that way, and that is adequate in many instances. However, minor differences between the two terms may play a role in which one you decide to use in a story.
According to the CDC, contagious means the bacteria or virus can be transmitted from person to person (a communicable disease), and is quantified by R-nought – a mathematical construct that predicts the number of people a contagious individual will infect. Continue reading
It’s been said that fear travels faster than the virus.
This is true. Given that Ebola is less contagious than many other communicable diseases, it’s easier to catch Ebola panic than Ebola itself. But if you’re a health care journalist writing about Ebola or the Ebola response, it’s sometimes hard to tell the real stories from the sensationalism.
In light of the Ebola diagnosis of two Dallas health care workers and the CDC initially placing blame on a “breach in protocol,” the past couple of days have seen a flurry of inflammatory Ebola coverage that focuses on the negatives. One of these is a survey from National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the U.S.: 80 percent of NNU nurses surveyed don’t feel they have received adequate Ebola training. New allegations have surfaced that nurses treating him “worked for days without proper protective gear and faced constantly changing protocols.” Additionally, there have been federal funding cuts to public health preparedness and response activities: $1 billion less in FY 2013 than in FY 2002, a year in which the nation dealt with 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, and anticipated the SARS epidemic of 2003. Continue reading
When Thomas Eric Duncan died Wednesday of Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, one of many questions that remained unanswered was why the hospital didn’t do more to diagnose and treat Duncan initially. On Sept. 25, Duncan walked into the hospital’s emergency room, was given antibiotics and sent home, according to coverage in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere.
The question about what happened on Sept. 25 is important because Duncan could have infected many other individuals between when he was sent home on Sept. 25 and when he returned on Sept. 28 and was put into isolation. Writing in The New York Times, Manny Fernandez and Dave Philipps suggest that Duncan might still be alive if he had been admitted on Sept. 25.
After his death, Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, and other African-Americans, questioned whether Duncan had received substandard care. Continue reading
Earlier today it was announced that Thomas Eric Duncan died in Dallas. Duncan, a Liberian national who contracted Ebola in Liberia, did not show symptoms on his journey to Dallas or immediately after his arrival. Various news outlets are reporting that travelers arriving in the United States from West Africa would have their temperatures taken and be asked to answer questionnaires ascertaining any possible exposure.
Given today’s events, it’s understandable that Internet speculation and media coverage have fanned the flames of public panic regarding Ebola. But reporters should be asking state and local epidemiologists if that panic is really justified.
Math can answer that question.
Some words are so familiar that it’s easy to assume you know what they mean – especially terms for a patient’s condition. Words such as “stable” and “critical” make it into health news all the time, but what do they really mean?
In light of the African Ebola epidemic, and the first diagnosis of Ebola on American soil, reporters should understand terms commonly used to describe a patient’s medical state or condition.
First, health writers should understand “vital signs” and what providers mean when they refer to vital signs as being normal. According to Medline Plus, “vital signs” include heart beat, breathing rate, temperature and blood pressure. Continue reading
What I’m reading about Ebola today:
“Possible second Ebola case in Dallas,” which may, of course, be related to “Experts question two-day delay in admitting Texas Ebola patient.” And now we learn that the “Ebola patient told hospital he had been to Liberia,” as well make use of a helpful interactive graphic on how contact tracing works. (Edited to add that last link.)
BioWorld Today has compiled a list of resources and stories about Ebola: “Special Report: The Push to Contain Ebola Virus.”
The World Health Organization has a page for Ebola situation assessments that it says will be updated Wednesday afternoon with information about a clinical trial of a vaccine. Continue reading
With today’s announcement of the first Ebola case to be diagnosed in the U.S., it’s worth brushing up on the facts about the virus to help your readers, viewers and listeners understand.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is hosting a briefing at 5:30 p.m. ET about the case, diagnosed in a patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Expected to speak during that briefing:
- Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- David Lakey, M.D., commissioner, Texas Department of State Health Services
- Edward Goodman, M.D., FACP, FIDSA, FSHEA, hospital epidemiologist, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas
- Zachary Thompson, M.A., director, Dallas County Health and Human Services
And here are some resources to use in your reporting: Continue reading