Sunday, October 16, 2005

Talk of Pandemic Tops First Day of SPJ Meeting

LAS VEGAS— Nearly a year after reporting on a nationwide shortage of flu vaccine, dozens of news reporters and writers are preparing to cover another flu phenomenon that could be far worse.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists packed a workshop entitled “Covering the Coming Pandemic” this afternoon on the opening day of their annual convention.

The session was added to the convention line-up after a flurry of recent reports about the threat of Asian bird flu, which health officials say could spark a pandemic because a vaccine is not yet available.

“We have not been able to control the bird outbreak,”said Christopher Ohl, director of the Center for Antimicrobial Utilization at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Ohl spent much of 30-minute presentation on reviewing the basics on the genetic development of influenza virus and details on the H5N1 strain of influenza that’s responsible for several deaths in Asia.

Ohl was joined by Lisa Benton, chair of bioterrorism planning and preparedness section of the California State Department of Health Services.

Benton called on journalists to provide balanced reporting with as many facts about the recent flu strain as possible.

This afternoon’s workshop was co-sponsored by FACS, the Foundation for American Communications.

The 2005 SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference continues tomorrow with keynote address by Bill Kovach, author of The Elements of Journalism.

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