Section 5: Media Epidemics

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This section of the web site considers the ways in which the media is involved in developing understanding of epidemics. There are 7 sections to the site:

First, this page introduces the various ways in which the media can influence people's understanding of epidemics; then two pages consider the positive and negative impacts of the media on people's understanding of epidemics; next there are two case studies - obesity and MMR, and finally sources and links.

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What is the media?

We often talk about ‘the media', but what do we mean by this word? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘The main means of mass communication”.

The word 'media' refers to a broad range of sources which may be used to convey information or for entertainment. These include magazines, newspapers, television, radio, film, and the internet. As you will see through further discussion on this site, the media is rarely neutral, and it is important not to take information in the media at face value.

There are a number of ways in which the media can be used to develop an understanding of epidemics. The most obvious way is through direct public health campaigns which involve placing adverts in the media, such as the recent adverts about the dangers of eating too much salt.

There are also other, more subtle ways which the media can convey health information, and these are discussed below.

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'Sid' the slug from the recent adverts about the dangers of salt.

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The news, either written in magazines, newspapers and the internet, or spoken on the television or radio, often reports on current, up to date health information relating to epidemic diseases. For example, recent outbreaks of diseases are often reported in the news (SARS has been top of recent news reports), or new developments relating to the spread, prevention or cure of diseases is often reported. Have a look at the epiblog site. This contains links to news stories relating to epidemic diseases.

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As well as the news, documentary programmes may present more in-depth analysis of information relating to epidemic diseases, and often provide case studies. Click on the links below to go to the web sites for two long running documentary series in the UK:

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Another way in which the media can inform about health issues is through entertainment. Characters in popular TV or radio shows may be shown to be dealing with such diseases.

For example, Sesame Street in South Africa has recently announced that it will have a HIV+ character. The aim is that children watching the show will learn that people who are HIV+ are able to be full members of the community, therefore reducing prejudice. It also aims to be educational in other ways, for example, by teaching children what to do if they or others who are HIV+ cut themselves.

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Direct information

A final way in which the media is involved in education is through providing direct information, help and support through help lines, or more often through the internet.

Sites such as this one are set up to allow people to access information about epidemic diseases, and there are many other official sites, such as those provided by the department of health and the NHS, which you can use to access information.

Television and radio companies also often provide health information web sites to back up information provided on the news, in documentaries or through entertainment. Often people may find it easier to look up information on the internet than to talk to friends and family, especially if they feel embarrassed.

It is important though that the internet doesn't mean that people no longer seek professional medical advisers such as doctors as everybody is different. There are links to many of these sites from the sources and links pages throughout this web site.

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NHS direct is an information site run by the NHS. Click on the logo to go to the site.


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Understanding Epidemics