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What do regional newspapers have to do with infectious diseases that could spread and cause an epidemic?
As it turns out, this type of media is very effective for the early detection of certain conditions.
And that’s why, when the mathematical model specialist Maia Majumder stumbled upon a map that showed how several US municipalities had run out of local newspapers, she was terrified to realize that the consequences of that reality will be negative for infection control.
“We depend a lot on what these media publish, if we do not have coverage, it will be difficult to identify outbreaks and predict their trajectory,” Majumder told the health publication Stat.
And it is that epidemiologists use a variety of sources to identify the spread of a disease, not just the data provided by official health agencies.
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An example of the effectiveness that can have the information published in local newspapers in a community outbreak is the outbreak of strangles s detected in the state of Arkansas in the southern United States in August 2016.
On that date, more than 2,000 cases were registered, 60% of which affected children of school age.
A study published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2017 reveals how the follow-up, conducted by the Northwest Arkansas Democratic Gazette, contributed to the diagnosis of the situation.
Thanks to the newspaper, the scientists who carried out the investigation obtained important data that allowed them to understand what was happening.
For example, they learned that the disease was spreading in a community inhabited by people from the Marshall Islands , located in the Pacific Ocean, between Australia and Hawaii. Also, the percentage of parents who had refused to have their children vaccinated was the largest in the state.
That information was essential to understand what was happening . Getting those details through the official channels was much more complicated.
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The analysis of non-traditional sources of data -such as local newspapers- to detect the outbreak of an infection that could become an epidemic is the objective of projects dedicated to the “real-time” surveillance of this type of disease.
The regional media, however, is a fundamental starting point for the compilation of data about the topic from websites, social networks, witness testimonies, expert forums and official reports.
“They are the basis of online surveillance, the review we do of the network to discover the beginning of situations that are affecting a community,” explained StatJohn Brownstein, co-founder of HealthMap , one of the projects dedicated to the collection of information about infections through unconventional sources.
An example referred by the scientist to illustrate his point is the pandemic of H1N1 influenza that was registered in 2009. The local reports helped the international community to pay attention to the emerging disease.
“If local media coverage declines,” Brownstein continued, “it would be logical to think that we will not have that initial warning.”
The information collected by groups such as HealthMap is used by health authorities and scientists who investigate variations in the geographical distribution of diseases, such as Zika, and the impact of climate change on the patterns that follow certain diseases.
So it is the regional newspapers that leave many of the details that allow to determine the particularities of an infectious outbreak. And that’s why his disappearance can affect your health.