USA Today ran an interesting story yesterday about a 19 year old woman given an antibiotic by a friend for a “sore throat” who developed Stevens Johnson Syndrome.  This is a terrible incident and my thoughts and prayers go out to the young woman and her family.  What bothered me however was the way in which USA Today reported it.  Here is the link:

Yes, it was reported that there was a teen who took an antibiotic making her “Burn From the Inside Out”.  Talk about sensationalism!  It appears that they got that phrase from a physician they contacted.  Now, I’m not questioning the accuracy of that description but it is the use of it in the headline that makes me shake my head.  CNN reported the same story with a more sedate headline: “A friend gave her an antibiotic; now she’s fighting for her life”

This just got me thinking about other ways in which the lay press reports on infectious diseases and antibiotics.  How many articles have been written on “Super Bugs”?  What ARE “super bugs” anyway?  In one story they may be MRSA, in another CREs.  What about “flesh eating bacteria”?  Some of us remember back about 15 years ago when this term first became popularly used in the press.  It referred to a series of cases of Group A Streptococcal necrotizing fasciitis.  This was hardly a new infection, even back then.  It has probably been around since the beginning of time but boy did they run with it.  Then, within the past few years “flesh eating bacteria” somehow morphed from Group A Strep to MRSA.  Which is it?  Is it both?  I guess.

Finally, since I have been asked frequently, let’s look at Ebola.  Now I am not, and have never claimed to be an expert on viral diseases in general and Ebola in specific.  I have never seen or treated a case and hope to never come across it.  However, just a few weeks ago you could not turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper or magazine and not read about this terrible disease.  In fact, Time Magazine, rightly IMHO, just named those who fight Ebola as their “People of the Year”.  However, let’s put this into perspective.  To the best of my knowledge there were only TWO cases actually contracted in the US and both of those were health care workers directly treating the first unfortunate patient in Dallas.  That did not stop the news sources from rolling out expert after expert about how this disease could potentially spread here in the States, or maybe not.  People were freaking out.   For the first time in all my years of travel I was seeing folks wearing surgical masks on airplanes and taking out sanitizing wipes to treat the airplane seats and trays before sitting down (actually, probably not a bad idea!).  But, as the old saying goes, “today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrapper”. Other than the Time story, I don’t think I have seen anything about the disease in a few weeks.

I guess the upside to all of this reporting is that it DOES make people more aware of infectious diseases and the potential dangers of inappropriately used antibiotics.  If just one person thinks twice and refuses an antibiotic proffered by a friend for a probable viral infection and remembers this poor woman and her fight with SJS, I guess the Press did their job.