Author Archives: Bara Vaida

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About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico, The Washington Post and other outlets.

Omicron subvariants “of concern” drive surge in cases and reinfection rates

Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The COVID-19 story of the summer is omicron subvariants.

As of mid-July, two subvariants are “of concern,” according to the CDC: BA.4 and BA.5, which make up about 80% all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Another variant, though it has yet to reach the status of “concern,” is BA.2.75, which is rapidly spreading in India and could become a threat in the U.S., according to virologists. (Omicron is the SARS-CoV-2 variant that emerged and swept the globe beginning November 2021, causing a big wave in cases, hospitalizations and deaths globally.)

How much the public should worry about these variants is a matter of debate among public health experts. See this July 13 story in Business Insider, quoting four infectious disease experts I have contacted frequently over the past two and half years. Three of the four experts (Amesh Adalja, M.D., Celine Gounder, M.D., Katelyn Jetelina, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Preeti Malani, M.D.) ranked the risks — on a scale of 1 to 10 — of between 0 and 7 depending upon age, health status and geographic location. One wouldn’t rank the risk because the data isn’t clear.

Some researchers, including Eric Topol, M.D., are extremely concerned because the variant is so contagious.

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The latest on monkeypox: rates, preparedness

On June 30, Texas’s department of health reported multiple cases of monkeypox in people who hadn’t traveled outside the United States, suggesting the outbreak of the disease is expanding to different parts of the country.

So how worried should Americans be? Most are currently at low risk for the disease, but that could change, Celine Grounder, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine told CBS News on June 28.

Monkeypox is spreading predominantly among men who have sex with men, but it could spread to other communities, Dr. Grounder said. The World Health Organization said on June 25, that monkeypox wasn’t a public health emergency of international concern, but the WHO said that may change if more cases emerge globally in the coming weeks.

As of June 30, the CDC said there have been 396 confirmed cases in the U.S. in 30 states and the District of Columbia. There were 4,177 cases reported in Europe, with the majority of cases reported in the past two months.

Monkeypox is caused by an orthopoxvirus and is a cousin of smallpox. Until recently, monkeypox has rarely been detected outside of west and central Africa. Though in most cases it is mild, the disease can be serious and even deadly for the immunocompromised, pregnant women and children. U.S. health officials have stepped up calls to clinicians and the public to know what the signs and symptoms are of the disease. They include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and a rash that can look like blisters. Transmission occurs through direct contact with the rash or bodily fluids like saliva and prolonged face-to-face contact through respiratory droplets.

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New tip sheet addresses uptick in Lyme disease cases

Photo by Erik Karits via

Lyme disease, caused by bacteria carried by black-legged ticks, is more common than previously understood and is on the rise.

AHCJ’s new tip sheet will aid in your reporting on this illness and other tick-borne diseases.

According to a new meta-analysis study published in the June 2022 issue of BMJ Global Health, about 14% of the world’s population likely has had Lyme disease. The analysis of antibodies in laboratory blood samples taken between January 1984 and December 2021 revealed that about 20.7% of people in central Europe, 15.9% in East Asia, and 13.5% and 9% in North America had been infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease. 

“There are more tick-borne disease cases every year,” said John Aucott, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center, during a June 8 AHCJ webcast. “This is an insidious epidemic. It hasn’t been as dramatic as COVID-19, so it has crept up on us.”

Ticks are emerging earlier from winter hibernation and staying active longer because of climate and deforestation, according to public health experts. As a result, Americans’ risk of infection from pathogens carried by the outdoor pests is rising. According to the CDC, the total number of tick-borne diseases reported to the agency rose by 125% to 50,865 in 2019 from 22,527 in 2004.

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Award-winning journalist explains how to build meaningful connections with sources

Emily Woodruff

Emily Woodruff, a health care reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, was recognized as one of the winners of AHCJ’s 2021 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism in the beat reporting and health policy (small) categories at Health Journalism 2022.

Her winning local COVID-19 coverage offered a vivid picture of how Louisiana’s hospitals, health care providers and residents were coping with the ongoing pandemic and other events impacting health in communities, such as hurricanes, the opioid epidemic and other diseases. In many of her articles, Woodruff provided readers with a sense of connection to people featured in her stories. 

In this “How I did It,” Woodruff shares her process for building trust with sources and enlivening her stories. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How do you create captivating scenes in your articles? What are your top tips?

You can probably tell in the stories when I was there with someone as an interaction unfolded or when I got to meet someone in their environment. I think that helps a lot. During COVID, we weren’t able to do a lot of that, and it’s something I missed. I think health care reporters in general, have to spend more time interviewing someone for any given story. Often [health reporters] are interviewing people who aren’t used to talking to the media. For a lot of these stories, you have to spend some time [with them]. You have to indicate that you understand where they’re coming from. So, a lot of times that looks like just being informed about whatever issue it is that they’re facing.

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Fungal infections are next chapter in reporting on superbugs

A medical illustration of Candida sp. fungal organisms. (Photo courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library)

Reporters looking to write about the next chapter in antimicrobial resistance should get up to speed on fungal infections.

“The future is going to be a fungal problem,” said Tom Chiller, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., chief of CDC’s mycotic diseases branch, during the “Antimicrobial resistance during and after COVID-19” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Fungi are spore-producing organisms like yeast, molds and mushrooms. About 100 of them are known to cause disease in humans. Deadly antimicrobial resistant fungal infection cases,  already rising in nursing homes and hospitals before the pandemic,  accelerated during the past two years, according to the CDC.

Hospital overuse of antibiotics, especially during the first year of the pandemic when there were few options for treating patients, plus the use of steroids to treat lung inflammation caused by COVID-19, both contributed to increases in resistant fungal infections with high mortality rates.

“COVID … introduced a bit of an unfortunate perfect storm” that enabled more and broader transmission of fungal infections in hospitals, Chiller said.

In 2017, according to the most recent CDC data, 75,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. for fungal infections, but that’s likely an underestimate. These infections often go undiagnosed and there is no national public health surveillance of common fungal infections, according to the CDC. Globally, about 13.5 million severe fungal infections — and 1.6 million deaths — are reported annually to public health officials, according to the non-profit Global Action for Fungal Infections.

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