Open Letter to KFSM - friday 2008-02-08 1313 last modified 2008-02-09 2034
Categories: Current Events
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Edit: They are now running a new story about the Arkansas Dept. of Health debunking the misinformation from the first story, which is laudable. Unfortunately, that first story has disappeared from their site, instead of redirecting or otherwise assisting a multitude of sites in finding actual facts. I've mirrored it (linked below). Retractions never get as much pull as their wrong-headed parents. It also renders the below a bit useless.

An open letter to KFSM regarding their poorly named Leprosy outbreak story.

I was quite disappointed to find your piece, Leprosy outbreak causes concerns in Northwest Arkansas, on the widely trafficked Drudge Report. It is poorly researched material not fit for public consumption, spreading fear and stigma about a disease the medical community understands and can fully treat. You missed an opportunity to educate, to erode long-held stigmas, and instead spread your own miasma of misinformation.

Your use of the term "leprosy" is outdated and offensive. The correct medical term is Hansen's disease, a name devoid of the serious stigma victims have faced over centuries. The effects of the disease are frightening, but it is precisely this fear that kept us so ignorant of its causes and cures for far, far too long. We know better now. It's time to stop using a dehumanizing name, the only purpose of which is to instill fear.

You have a photo of the leg of a Hansen's disease victim accompanying your web story. You fail to note within the story that this photo was acquired directly from the Wikipedia article on the disease.

And while it's clear you visited said Wikipedia article, you state as facts concepts that are in direct contradiction with it. Wikipedia notes that the transmission of the disease (in the pathophysiology section) is not understood; while it is suspected to be airborne, it is not proven to be so. Yet your article claims airborne transmission is a fact. Perhaps your research team did not actually read the article.

You refer to a Dr. Jennifer Bingham, a medical doctor in Springdale, but don't offer any further credentials for her expertise on the topic. Does she know that the majority of humanity is naturally immune to the Hansen's disease bacterium? That those who are not must generally be exposed to it at a young age in order to develop a case later in life? That the disease is fully curable, and an "epidemic," as it was so woefully put, could never develop - even without public health intervention? With it, early cases can be caught and rendered entirely non-communicable, leaving victims cured and unscarred. Considering all we know and all we can do, Hansen's disease is simply not a disastrous public health risk in this country. Ignorance about Hansen's disease is not either; still, there is a cure for those who would take it.

I observe the mayoral candidate for Springdale interviewed for your story says this: "We've just opened the borders and said, 'Come on in! Bring your diseases! Bring 'em!' Why are we doing that? Those who have it need to be quarantined and treated, or sent back to their country." Someone should inform her that quarantine is not a regular part of treating Hansen's disease. But then, the candidate is clearly abusing this piece as a vehicle for her political anti-immigration views. Your readers deserve far more than thinly veiled scare tactics and political innuendo when it comes to their health. I suggest you give it them: either retract your piece or correct it with real, valid information, and give the mayoral candidates their own space to voice their political views.

See the US DHHS' Health Resources and Services Administration's page on Hansen's disease for more educational material.

Edit: removed paragraph about vaccines, as I clearly don't know enough about that topic. Yes, there are bacterial vaccines, and no, there isn't one for Hansen's disease.

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