Checklist for covering infectious disease stories


Knowledge of the basic disease you are covering

Do you know:

    • if it’s an infectious disease or not?
    • if it’s caused by a pathogen (bacterium, virus, parasite or a fungus)
    • what the difference is between these pathogens?
    • how the disease is transmitted?
    • if it can be prevented and if so how?
    • if it can be treated and if so how?
    • the differences and similarities between vaccines and drugs?
    • how drugs work in the body?
    • how vaccines work in the body?
    • how vaccines and drug trials work
    • how the body’s immune system responds to pathogens, drugs and vaccines?


    Your Source/s

    • Have you identified the original source of the claim?
    • Have you done a background check on him/her?
    • If the original source is an individual, find out where he/she works and his/her credentials.
    • Remember to ask who, why, what, when and where.
    • Check what the source has told you with independent, reliable sources.
    • Make sure you have more than one reliable source.
    • Have you verified the information with online sources such as WHO, MSF, CDC etc
    • Have you checked all numbers and calculations?
    • Is what the source telling you based on rumor or on scientifically-based information?
    • Does the source have an agenda, political or otherwise?


    Writing the story

    • Do thorough research before writing, blogging, broadcasting or televising.
    • Use up-to-date studies and statistics to back up your story.
    • Don’t use scientific jargon in your stories.
    • Ask your source to explain difficult terms by giving examples.
    • Mention current research on developing a vaccine/drug for the disease you are covering.
    • Debunk rumours and misconceptions by giving evidence-based facts from reliable sources.
    • Remember merely repeating the rumour or misconception in your story without verigying whether it is true or not, can cause harm to your readers/listeners/viewers.
    • Read back technical information to your expert source to check you have understood it properly.

by Adele Baleta, independent science writer