After almost two months of screaming newspaper headlines and wall-to-wall cable television coverage about the Ebola outbreak, a calm descended over the media in late October. On Oct. 30, the Washington Post‘s front page carried the headline, “New Cases of Ebola Declining, WHO Says.” The next day, the same real estate carried stories about the war in Syria and the CEO of Apple, Inc. Over the same two days, Ebola was nowhere to be found on the front page of the New York Times. It was 23 days after the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first and only confirmed Ebola fatality in the United States.
Barring another victim arriving on U.S. shores, this slowdown in Ebola stories could be the start of a downward slope oftentimes seen in coverage of new, scary viral outbreaks. Coverage of epidemics often tracks well initially with the number of reported cases, with media attention waning in the aftermath of the initial outbreak. But these spikes stand in stark contrast to how the media covers chronic diseases and other health problems with huge human and economic costs to society. Despite far-reaching effects, these stories rarely find the media spotlight.
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