Spam Journalism #83

By Jim McVeagh 26/12/2010


Spam Journalism: The spurious use of sensational headlines to add spice to an otherwise pointless article.

Just for a change of pace, here’s a bit of travel spam that’s been hijacked as a piece of vaccine propaganda.

More Kiwis die on foreign soil

Kiwi’s lax attitude to getting our travel jabs may be killing us.

The number of New Zealanders dying overseas has increased 160 per cent in five years, and many of those deaths are in sweltering destinations like north Australia or South-East Asia, prone to tropical infections and diseases.

What the article nowhere tells you is that very few Kiwis die from the diseases we typically inoculate against; tetanus, polio, measles and hepatitis A and B. The vast majority of Kiwis who die overseas do so from accidents – mostly motor vehicle accidents. I am unaware of a vaccine available for this. However, using public transport and not hiring a car would go a long way to making your overseas trip both safer and cheaper. I know this is not always possible, but it should surely be considered.

But this article is not about road safety, of course, but about vaccines. Apparently journalists find vaccines much sexier that road safety. Goodness knows why. The chances are high that, if you have been to an emergency department for a cut of some sort in the last 10 years, you are already up to date with the most dangerous disease, tetanus. As most people who cut themselves overseas also get a course of antibiotics, which kills tetanus, it is probably not much of a worry unless you are planning on doing extreme sports. Most of us are immunised against polio and measles, and the latter is not that dangerous to us well-fed kiwis. Hepatitis A is a concern only in endemic areas and Hep B can only be caught by exposure to blood. In short, vaccination is of very limited use and protection overseas. Common sense is infinitely more reliable.

As for rabies vaccines – no one gets one (apparently they hurt like hell and make you quite sick). Should you be unlucky enough to be bitten by a potentially rabid animal, hightail it to the nearest first-world country and get some anti-rabies immunoglobulin. You have about 48 hours before that is ineffective.

Of course, the article does not say how many Kiwis travelled overseas last year in comparison with previous years. Nor does it break down the causes of death. So instead of being a usefully information and interesting article, it becomes a sensationalist propaganda piece for vaccinations.

Modern journalism in a nutshell.

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