'Media makes infectious
diseases seem much worse'
Nov 3 (IANS) Popular media coverage of infectious diseases
make them seem worse than they are, according to a new Canadian
that surface frequently in the print media -like bird flu
- are considered more serious than similar diseases that do
not receive the same kind of coverage, such as yellow fever,
according to the research.
media tend to focus on rare and dramatic events," said
Meredith Young, co-author and graduate in the department of
psychology, neuroscience & behaviour, McMaster University.
a certain disease receives repeated coverage in the press,
people tend to focus on it and perceive it as a real threat.
This raises concerns regarding how people view their own health,
how they truly understand disease and how they treat themselves,"
interesting aspect of the study is when we presented factual
information about the diseases along with the names of them,
the media effect wasn't nearly as strong," said Karin
Humphreys, a co-author and assistant professor at McMaster's.
suggests that people can overcome the influence of the media
when you give them the facts, and so objective reporting is
really critical," Humphreys added.
surprising, said Humphreys, is the fact that the medical students
-who would have more factual knowledge about these diseases
- were just as influenced by the media, despite their background,
according to McMaster release.
chose 10 infectious diseases drawn from the Centre for Disease
Control database. Five were medical disorders that have been
highly prevalent in the recent print media -anthrax, SARS,
West Nile virus, Lyme disease and avian flu -and five were
medical disorders that have not often been present in current
media: Tularemia, human babesiosis, yellow fever, Lassa fever
groups of students, undergraduate and medical students, were
asked to rate how serious, how prevalent, and how "disease-like"
various conditions were.
see that a single incident reported in the media, can cause
great public concern if it is interpreted to mean that the
potential risk is difficult to control, as with the possibility
of a pandemic like in the case of Avian flu, and bioterrorism,
as in the case of anthrax infection," said Young.
when participants were presented with the descriptions of
the disease, without the name, they actually thought that
the diseases which received infrequent media coverage -the
control group -were actually worse.
findings were published online in the Public Library of