Tag Archives: swine flu

What two journalists learned from covering the race to stop the next pandemic

Harriett Constable and Jacob Kushner (Images courtesy of the Pulitzer Center)

While most of the world is focused on stopping the spread of COVID-19, scientists across the globe are working to stop other potentially deadly viruses from causing another pandemic. The diseases that pose the greatest threat to humanity are all zoonotic.

According to the EcoHealth Alliance, 75% of all emerging diseases are zoonotic, meaning diseases that can spread between species — from animals to humans and vice versa, for example.

Informing the public is the first step to helping to combat the spread of these illnesses, said Harriet Constable, a multimedia producer and director based in London, and Jacob Kushner, an international correspondent.

Alarmed by the data they found about these emerging zoonotic diseases, Constable and Kushner collaborated on a six-part multimedia series, funded by the Pulitzer Center, titled, “Stopping the Next One: Scientists Race to Prevent Human Encroachment on Wildlife From Causing the Next Pandemic.”

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Lack of vaccination, awareness worsen UK flu season

The Guardian‘s Denis Campbell and Sarah Boseley report that a drop in vaccination rates and a lack of public awareness has made this flu season worse than it should have been, and that there is potential for the NHS to be “inundated” with flu cases. The story has spread quickly in the UK, and may be providing just the sort of public awareness campaign that the reporters found was previously lacking.

Professor Steve Field, who until last month was the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, spoke out as the Department of Health revealed there are more than 300 people in critical care beds with flu and 17 people have died.
Field said the decision not to encourage the public to have a jab to protect themselves was “ill-advised” and needed to be urgently reversed.
The NHS should have acted more decisively to encourage people to have the jab because it was known that H1N1 swine flu was still circulating and that few NHS staff had the swine flu vaccine when it was offered to them late last year.


For more European health news, see AHCJ’s Covering Europe initiative.

Canadian workshop examines H1N1 coverage

The H1N1 pandemic was a unique event, with developments unfolding quickly, leading to communication problems about the crisis, according to a speaker at a workshop in Montreal last week.

The Concordian, the student newspaper at Concordia University in Montreal, reports that the university’s departments of journalism and exercise science hosted a workshop on “Politics of Health Information: Reflections on a Pandemic.”

Dr. Simon Bacon, from Concordia’s department of exercise science, participated in the 2nd Annual Health Communication Workshop and said, “This was something that happens very rarely and it was going so fast that there were communication problems between each level.”

A report on how to improve communication between scientists and journalists is expected to be completed and posted online in about two months.

BMJ wants raw data for all drug trials to be shared

Under the headline “We want raw data, now,” BMJ editor Fiona Godlee recounts the story of how BMJ had to pressure a drug company into releasing full study reports verifying their claims as to the effectiveness of oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

Tamiflu. Photo by Richard Sunderland via Flickr.

Godlee says that researchers updating their Cochrane review of the drug “failed to verify claims, based on an analysis of 10 drug company trials, that oseltamivir reduced the risk of complications in healthy adults with influenza. These claims have formed a key part of decisions to stockpile the drug and make it widely available.”

Only after Roche was questioned by the BMJ and Channel 4 News did the manufacturer commit to making “full study reports” available. Godlee says that some questions remain, including how patients were recruited and why some neuropsychiatric adverse events were not reported.

Godlee argues that “it can’t be right that the public should have to rely on detective work by academics and journalists to patch together the evidence for such a widely prescribed drug,” saying that “Individual patient data from all trials of drugs should be readily available for scientific scrutiny.”

GAO: Flu-fighting plan needs better measures

The United States Government Accountability Office today released the catchily titled “Monitoring and Assessing the Status of the National Pandemic Implementation Plan Needs Improvement” report. See the highlights here.

It does not specifically address the response to the H1N1 pandemic but instead reviews compliance with the Homeland Security Council’s 2006 “Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.” The GAO analyzed 60 randomly selected action items from the 324 recommended in the report and sought to measure both how the completion of those items was monitored and how many had actually been completed.

The GAO found that while the Homeland Security Council had reported that the majority of the action items were complete in 2008, it was “difficult to determine the actual status of some of the 49 designated as complete.” To rectify this, the GAO recommended that “future progress reports would benefit from using measures of performance that are more consistent with the action items’ descriptions.”