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November 8, 2008

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.

October 5, 2008

What makes a good health news story?

We read health news stories in the newspaper everyday and health issues are covered frequently on television newscasts. But, how can we tell if we are really getting the whole story? The Web site HealthNewsReview.org can help. This site reviews health news stories and gives them a rating based on 10 criteria. They are looking to see if the story give the reader/viewer a balanced and complete story that includes in formation on cost, benefits and harms, how the treatment or test compares to existing alternatives and more. Just knowing the criteria that they use can help us evaluate health news stories with a more criticla eye.