Voices 2: Ben Park and fungal meningitis


As usual, I was extremely impressed at this month’s Voices from the Vanguard lecture. How can scientists and communicators achieve so much in such a short life? Ben Park of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does look much younger than his age, but he still has accomplished so much!

I was especially intrigued by Park’s story of fungal meningitis cases related to contaminated steroid injections because of the huge media hype in the last year and discussions about the topic in Professor Nowak’s public health communications class this semester. It’s bizarre and interesting to think about this aspect of communication from the other side of the table. How the hell do you tell people about fungal meningitis in the first place, let alone a public outrage and confusion related to infected injections?

Park presented a great timeline of everything that happened, starting with awareness of the first outbreaks in late September 2012. He openly explained the process of determining what the cases had in common, tracing the steroid drugs to the same compounding companies, and keeping those affected in the loop. I was amazed at the incubation period and that some people who were affected late in the process — before drugs were pulled from the shelves — may still be anticipating symptoms. 

In addition, I was impressed by the speed and dedication of Park’s team related to communications. Within 10 days, 90 percent of all of those affected were notified, and 99 percent were notified in two to three weeks. But then it became even more complicated with spinal infections, strokes, and joint infections, and so far a 720 case count has resulted in 42 deaths. It would be intimidating to address this for a job, especially when the content isn’t something you can anticipate.

This semester, especially at the AHCJ meeting last week, I’ve become more aware of the complications and controversies related to pharmacy compounding. It’s a tricky topic, and I’m not sure if I would feel comfortable covering it for a publication. But if an editor assigned me a story, could I tackle it adequately? That’s the questions I continue to ask myself as I learn detailed health and medical news information this semester. The topics are intriguing and certainly important to cover, but they’re especially important to report carefully and accurately. When it comes to reporting health information, I want to do it well.


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