Legionnaires Outbreak: No time for sloppy reporting

With New Yorkers (especially in the Bronx)media on edge about Legionnaires Disease, there’s no room for sloppy media coverage.

During an outbreak, where dread is in play and the likelihood of half-right information spreading quickly,  public health officials take every opportunity to communicate what is known.

We’re hearing some residents say “I’m not going to drink the water”, which likely demonstrates that people are hearing something about contaminated water and over-generalizing.  The fact is that water storage towers and connected air cooling systems are most often the culprits. A fact that the NYCDOH has been trying to get out there.

That’s why the FOX News coverage on Aug 2, 2015 of the Legionnaires outbreak is so, well…sloppy.

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[core text from the Fox New coverage reads]

The legionella bacteria were discovered Friday at the Opera House Hotel in the Bronx. The bacteria had previously been found in equipment at a hospital.

Officials say five of 22 buildings in the South Bronx where the outbreak occurred have tested positive.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused when water tainted with a certain bacteria is inhaled into the lungs. There have been 2,400 cases nationwide this year.

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Hypothetical Reader:

If I didn’t know the origin and routes of transmission of Legionnaires Disease I would come away from this news story with the following ideas:

  • The infection can be in equipment – like door knobs, refrigerators, computers, etc. And if you touch this equipment you can get Legionnaires.
  •  A whole building can have this infection. Maybe the air, maybe the equipment.
  • You have to breathe water in.  But most people don’t breathe in water ( maybe in the shower or swimming pool).

In public health emergencies, at a minimum, we expect and rely on the media to transmit accurate information. A little care in reporting would go a long way.

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