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Keywords:

  • Clostridium difficile ;
  • media;
  • multidisciplinary;
  • newspapers;
  • nursing;
  • outbreak;
  • patient safety;
  • risk communication

Abstract

Aim

To examine how a major Clostridium difficile outbreak in the UK was represented in the media.

Background

Clostridium difficile is a serious health care-associated infection with significant global prevalence. As major outbreaks have continued to occur worldwide over the last few decades, it has also resulted in increasing media coverage. Newspaper journalists are, however, frequently criticized for sensationalized and inaccurate reporting and alarming the public. Despite such criticisms, nothing is known about how the media frame Clostridium difficile related coverage.

Design

Qualitative interpretive descriptive study.

Method

An interpretive analysis of newspaper articles from the national press that reported about the outbreak from the first day of coverage over 3 weeks (12 June–3 July 2008).

Findings

Twenty-eight newspaper articles were included in the study from tabloids, broadsheets, a regional and a Sunday newspaper. Monster and war metaphors were frequently adopted to portray the severity of Clostridium difficile and the impact it can have on patient safety. In addition, the positioning of the affected patients, their families, healthcare professionals and the Government produced representations of victims, villains and heroes. This subsequently evoked notions of vulnerability, blame and conflict.

Conclusion

The media are and will remain critical convectors of public information and, as such, are hugely influential in risk perceptions and responses. Rather than simply dismissing media coverage, further understanding around how such stories in specific contexts are constructed and represented is needed so that it can help inform future communication and management strategies.