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Media affects public perception of infectious disease

An article in the Washington Post reports on a study from Canada that says that media coverage affects people's perceptions of infectious disease. This idea seems to make intuitive sense. The study reasons that if infectious diseases are heavily covered in the media they will be perceived as more serious, even if they actually are not. In the study, two groups of students rated a set of infectious diseases and they initially rated diseases such as avian flu, SARS and anthrax as more severe. They rated diseases like Tularemia, human babesiosis and yellow fever as less severe. However, when the students were given descriptions of the diseases without the names, the ratings flip flopped. The researchers also suggest that this means that people can overcome effects of the media by being given factual information.


I find this article to be interesting. In seems as though main stream media can influence anyone about any given topic. I think that a health news organization should take a initiative to report on serious diseases that are not reported in the public sphere and take the time and effort to inform the public. If this study reports that this is true, a news organization should consider it.