Objective: To assess how West Nile virus (WNV) was reported to the American public on local television news and identify the main factors that influenced coverage.
Methods: A representative sample of WNV stories that were reported on 122 local television news stations across the United States during October 2002, covering 67% of the nation's population, were coded for self-efficacy, comparative risk scenarios, symptoms and recommendations, high-risk individuals, and frame. In addition, public service professionals (PSPs) interviewed in the segments were identified. Comparisons were made between stories in which a PSP was interviewed and stories without an interview with respect to discussion of the 5 variables coded.
Results: Of the 1371 health-related stories captured during the study period, 160 WNV stories aired, the second most common health topic reported. Forty-nine of the 160 WNV stories contained at least 1 of the 5 reporting variables. Forty-two PSPs were interviewed within 33 unique WNV stories. Public health officials composed 81% of all PSP interviews. Stories containing a public health official interview had 15.2 times (odds ratio 15.2, confidence interval 5.1-45.9) higher odds of reporting quality information, controlling for station affiliate or geographic location.
Conclusions: Emerging infectious disease stories are prominently reported by local television news. Stories containing interviews with public health officials were also much more likely to report quality information. Optimizing the interactions between and availability of public health officials and the local news media may enhance disaster communication of emerging infections.
(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2010;4:220-225)