Tag Archives: outbreak

Journalists must succeed where politicians fail in risk communication

Image: wackystuff via Flickr

Image: wackystuff via Flickr

With no new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in South Korea since July 2, the outbreak appears to have ended. Commentaries such as a recent Nature editorial are assessing the damage and the response – and the damage of the response.

In total, 186 people became sick with the virus and 36 died. Yet the response to the virus in South Korea shared something in common with the response to Ebola in the United States during the West African outbreak last year: It was over the top, largely because public officials have yet to master adequate risk communication. Continue reading

Resources for reporting on compounding pharmacies

Seven patients in Tennessee are sick after injections from a compounding pharmacy, health officials say. AHCJ has some presentations from a recent panel, The Boston Globe’s award-winning coverage of a similar outbreak and a questionnaire about how they reported on it and more resources for reporters who are looking into compounding pharmacies.

Presentations from a panel at Health Journalism 2013:

From compounders to drug shortages: Covering pharmacies and pharmacists
• Michael R. Cohen, R.Ph., M.S., president, Institute for Safe Medication Practices
• William Churchill, M.S., R.P.H., chief of pharmacy services, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
• John Walczyk, pharmacy manager, Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center

Keldy Ortiz wrote about the panel for Covering Health: Growing challenges to safety, adequacy of drug supply

Previous coverage

The Boston Globe‘s coverage of a fungal meningitis outbreak tied to contaminated drugs won first place in the public health category of the 2012 Excellence in Health Care Journalism Awards. See the coverage as well as a questionnaire about how they reported on the topic.

FDA regulation

In her tip sheet on the anti-aging movement, Arlene Weintraub touches on compounding pharmacies. She notes that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has tried unsuccessfully to put a halt to improper marketing claims by compounding pharmacists and its continuing efforts in this area are well worth following. In the aftermath of the earlier meningitis outbreak traced to a compounding pharmacy, at least two legislators said they will draft legislation to give the FDA more oversight of compounding pharmacies.

On April 26, senators introduced a draft bill to make clear oversight responsibilities for pharmaceutical compounding.

Budget Victim: Inspections For Compounding Pharmacies, WBUR, May 20

The FDA has a section of its website devoted to compounding pharmacies.


This also might be a good time to remind public officials that there is now guidance on what information should be made public when someone dies or falls ill during a public health emergency. The document – developed by leaders in public health and health-care journalism – provides a framework for releasing such information as the age and location of private individuals who have been affected by an epidemic or other public-health event.

Pharmacy industry groups

… As we gather more resources, we will add them to this post …

CDC official details response to meningitis outbreak

John Jernigan, M.D., M.S., the CDC’s clinical team lead on the multistate meningitis outbreak and director of the CDC’s Office of Health Associated Infections Prevention Research and Evaluation, briefed AHCJ members, including the 2012-13 Regional Health Journalism Fellows, in Atlanta about the agency’s response to the multistate fungal meningitis outbreak.

Thanks to AHCJ board member Maryn McKenna, who used Storify to share information from the briefing as well as a blog post. UPDATE: Tom Wilemon of The Tennessean and Tom Corwin of The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, both Regional Health Journalism fellows, also wrote about the briefing. Click through to see McKenna’s Storify about the event. Continue reading

Salmonella outbreak may linger for 2 years

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Craig Schneider reports that, because of the long shelf-life of peanut products and the difficulty and complexity of recalling all products made with tainted peanut butter, Peanut Corp. of America’s salmonella outbreak could be sickening consumers for two more years.

The process of identifying those products and ensuring their removal has been complicated and confusing, said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of food safety at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We’re really concerned. This is not over yet,” Sundlof said. He said the outbreak could last as long as products are around, possibly as long as two years.

That’s because peanut products, seemingly harmless as they linger in homes and the marketplace, can have a relatively long shelf life, officials said. Vegetables and meat, which spoil relatively quickly, must be thrown away.

Lax oversight, complex supply chains aid outbreaks

In the wake of recent food-borne salmonella outbreaks, Justina Wang of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle found that a combination of a complex supply chain and lax federal oversight has allowed a steady stream of dangerous pathogens to slip into the food supply.

Given the complexity of today’s food processing and distribution networks, Wang found that many health experts don’t see an end to the outbreaks.

“Absolutely it will continue to happen until big changes are made,” said Sanford Miller, former director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and a senior fellow at the University of Maryland. “The food industry has just exploded over the last several decades, and unfortunately, the FDA has not been able to keep up with this.”

Pathogens can lurk in food for months and by the time someone becomes ill and is tested and diagnosed with a potentially dangerous food-borne illness, officials said, the outbreak may already be in full swing. Once the outbreak is detected, even more time passes as product recalls are put into place.