Reporting on Pandemics and Contagious Diseases

Nov 3, 2011

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization warned in August about “a possible major resurgence” of the bird flu because a mutant form of the virus was recently found in Vietnam and Cambodia. Other flu viruses, including strains of swine flu, are occasionally resurfacing in different parts of the world.

In March 2011, a panel of experts reviewed the World Health Organization’s response to the 2009 swine flu pandemic. They concluded that we are still unprepared for a severe outbreak and that “tens of millions would be at risk of dying.”

And this summer, Hollywood cashed in again on the doomsday disease scenario with the most recent pandemic flick, Contagion, a film that a New York Times writer said is, believe it or not, factually accurate.

Amidst a deluge of information, how can journalists provide accurate reports about a new disease during times of uncertainty? In what way can journalists best report pandemic information to the public? And how do journalists protect themselves when they are working on the ground as a contagious disease spreads?

This week, Global Journalist speaks with experienced journalists who have reported on the avian flu and the swine flu to understand their perspectives on pandemic reporting and how to best inform the public about new diseases.