A strain of an influenza virus now circulating in China remains a potential pandemic threat while many gaps remain in preparing for such an event, a group of global health experts at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) warned last month.
During an infectious disease outbreak, how does a journalist provide accurate information about risks to the public as the event is unfolding?
Explain what is known and unknown at the time about the threat, and put the risk in context to risks that people assume daily, suggests Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Continue reading
When the Atlantic’s Ed Yong began thinking about a story on health security, he realized he needed a basic definition for a core point of the story — what is emergency health preparedness?
“Something dawned on me,” Yong said. “I didn’t really understand what exactly preparedness meant. I had been writing the word for a long time and doing stories on it, but it felt a bit abstract and nebulous.” Continue reading
It can seem next to impossible to prepare for a threat you know will come without knowing what it will be, where it comes from, how it will travel, how bad it will be and where it will go. Yet that’s what thousands of public health officials and health care providers do on an ongoing basis in order to be ready for whatever infectious disease next threatens to become a pandemic.
During Health Journalism 2018, Bara Vaida, AHCJ’s core topic leader on infectious diseases, moderated a panel discussing what’s necessary to be ready for pandemics. That includes the barriers to being fully prepared, many facets related to an outbreak (including the health and safety of responders on the front line) and the challenge this presents for journalists covering public health. Continue reading
In February 1918, a Haskell County, Kan., paper, the Santa Fe Monitor, reported almost a dozen people were “quite sick” with pneumonia. At the time, the stories may not have seemed significant. Many people get sick in the winter.
Decades later, however, the stories became hugely important. The Monitor’s report helped disease detectives piece together the trail of the world’s greatest influenza pandemic and its epicenter, according to “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History” by author John Barry. The 1918 flu, which ultimately killed about 50 million people globally, likely began in Haskell County, where scientists think the deadly flu virus jumped between animals and humans and then to troops at a nearby army base readying to fight World War I.
Why this matters today was highlighted in a Stat story this week by Helen Branswell, “When Towns Lose Their Newspapers, Disease Detectives are Left Flying Blind.” Continue reading
Reporters covering the flu season know it has been one of the most severe in the past decade. As of early February, the number of people who have visited a doctor due to the flu had exceeded the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Public health officials have known since last fall that this flu season was likely to be severe, yet the health system had trouble keeping up. Hospitals have been overwhelmed. There have been shortages of antivirals, IV saline bags and flu shots. Dozens of children have died.
What does that say about the U.S. health system’s readiness for handling infectious disease outbreaks? We are among the wealthiest nations in the world, and yet every year the health system has trouble convincing people to get the flu vaccine and has further difficulty caring for those who get ill. Continue reading