Communicable news

Feb 23, 2005

With sickness in the house (runny noses, diarrhea, torso rashes), and in anticipation of my new job, I’ve been devouring recent news reports about infectious diseases, including pneumonic plague in Congo, HIV in NYC, avian flu in SE Asia, whooping cough (how does a doctor, presented with a patient who complains of coughing so hard in the night as to break a rib, not think pertussis?), schistosomiasis and more.

The whooping cough article was enlightening, explaining that the success of the vaccine probably leads to less exposure to the germ that helps vaccinated persons build antibodies that protect them once the childhood vaccine wears off. Of course, the growing numbers of vaccine objectors also help by spreading Bordetella pertussis to the antibody-free population. (More on pertussis from the CDC.)

Then there was Gina Kolata’s article, Panel to Advise Testing Babies for 29 Diseases that failed to mention more than two or three of those 29 (plus an additional 25) diseases. I thought that was a glaring reporting omission, and expected the NTY website to offer a complete list. None that I can see, and no links to where you can learn about the diseases and their genetic screenings. (Erin, my wife, is working on a CDC project about such screenings; I’ll ask her for some links to resources on genetic testing; until then, read my story about fragile X syndrome.) And, the “influential federal advisory group” that is drafting the screening recommendations isn’t ever named, that I can see.

Kolata’s article is a good one, except for these two obvious problems – why didn’t a copy editor sit back and wonder, “What might a reader be confused about after reading this article?”

The Emerging Infectious Diseases journal is always a good place to find fascinating articles about the many bugs that like to infect us humans.

[Comment: this post would have been posted to medicaljournalism.info, but that site is on a hiatus, to be alivened at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference next month.]

Anton Zuiker

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