October 15, 2009

Swine Flu in the Spotlight

Swine Flu 1134
Cancer 175
Other Diseases 153
Obesity and Diabetes 78
Mental Health Conditions 49
Heart Disease 41
Autism 31
Alzheimers 28

5:1 Ratio of swine flu stories to stories about cancer and heart disease in 2009

The much-anticipated rollout of the H1N1 vaccine generated major news the week of October 5-11, 2009. The limited supply and concerns about the safety of the vaccine helped make swine flu the No. 5 story that week, filling 5% of the newshole. That represented the third-biggest week of swine flu coverage since the virus surfaced in the spring. The subject filled 31% of the newshole from April 27-May 3, when the disease was first emerging as a global public health threat and 9% of the newshole the following week, (May 4-10).

Since swine flu first made news in April there have been 1,134 stories about the illness, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. No other ailment comes anywhere close to matching that level of media interest. By way of comparison there have been 175 stories about caner, the next most covered disease. Some of that coverage was devoted to the case of 13-year-old cancer patient, Daniel Hauser, who went missing with his mother in May in an attempt to avoid chemotherapy treatment for the boy. Daniel and his mother returned and he has since received the treatment.

Following cancer, two other problems that are often related, obesity and diabetes, generated 78 stories. Other diseases making news this year included mental health conditions (49), heart disease (41), autism (31), Alzheimer’s (28) and AIDS (22). Another 153 stories fell into the category of other diseases ranging from the common cold to sexually transmitted ailments to the seasonal flu.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ