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Consulting with prime time TV writers on Infectious Disease Topics

Elizabeth Bancroft, MD, SM1, Vicki Beck, MS2, Amanda Shaivitz, MPH2, Jennie Greene, MS2, Laurene Mascola, MD, MPH3, Louise Walshe, RN, MPH4, and Mitchell Cohen, MD5. (1) Acute Communicable Disease Control, 313 North Figueroa, Room 212, Los Angeles, CA 90012, 213-240-7941, ebancroft@dhs.co.la.ca.us, (2) Hollywood, Health & Society Program, USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, 8383 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 650, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, (3) 90012, (4) Acute Communicable Disease Control, Los Angeles County, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, 313 North Figueroa, Room 212, Los Angeles, CA 90012, (5) National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control, 8383 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 650, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Heightened public awareness about recent disease outbreaks including SARS, Avian influenza, West Nile Virus, and bioterrorism has led to increased attention to these topics in entertainment media. Analyses of national Healthstyles data from 1999-2001 reveal that up to half of regular prime time television viewers learn about diseases and how to prevent them from TV shows, and some take action as a result (Beck et al, 2001). The media has a powerful influence on audiences, with the potential to educate about public health issues when writers receive accurate and timely information.

Through entertainment education efforts, public health experts consult with TV writers to provide credible information for more accurate portrayals in TV storylines. Hollywood, Health & Society—a program funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute at the USC Annenberg School for Communication—identifies topic experts and coordinates consultations when TV writers request assistance. Los Angeles County health officials are among the many experts who work with the USC program to consult on disease outbreak storylines that appear in daytime and prime time dramas. Through phone consultations and writers’ room briefings, County officials have consulted with writers on rabies, botulism, bioterrorism, and healthcare facility outbreaks to offer guidance for more accurate and realistic depictions of these topics. We will describe the roles of public health consultants and their process in working with TV writers as a way to educate U.S. viewing audiences about infectious disease topics.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Media, Infectious Diseases

Related Web page: www.entertainment.usc.edu/hhs

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

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The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA