June Physician Focus: Infectious Disease: Fear vs. Evidence

The outbreak of an infectious disease is one of medicine’s most difficult challenges.  At the same time that public health agencies must contain the infection, they must also try to quell the public’s fears – a difficult task in today’s world of instant communication, multiple media channels, and constant media attention.  The experiences of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, H1N1 Bird Flu in 2009, Ebola in 2014, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2014, and now the Zika virus in 2016, are the most recent examples of threats targeting the public health.

June Physician Focus features Dr. Steven Hatch (r), with host Dr. Bruce Karlin

June Physician Focus features Dr. Steven Hatch (r), with host Dr. Bruce Karlin

The June edition of Physician Focus provides some perspective on the topic of media and public reaction to outbreaks of infectious disease through the experiences of Steven C. Hatch, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Division of Infectious Disease at UMass Medical School in Worcester. Hosting this edition is Bruce Karlin, M.D., a primary care physician in Worcester.

In 2014, Dr. Hatch spent five weeks in Liberia with the International Medical Corps treating patients stricken with Ebola and subsequently returned to that country several times to treat patients. Among the topics of conversation are what public health agencies must consider in reacting to infectious disease outbreaks, comments on how the media covered the Ebola outbreak in the U.S., and Dr. Hatch’s perspective on the latest outbreak of Zika.

Physician Focus is distributed to public access television stations throughout Massachusetts, reaching residents in more than 275 cities and towns. It is also available online at www.massmed.org/physicianfocus, www.physicianfocus.org/disease2016, and on YouTube.


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