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Soc Sci Med. 1996 Dec;43(12):1685-95.

Infinitesimal risk as public health crisis: news media coverage of a doctor-patient HIV contact tracing investigation.

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Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Sydney, Westmead Hospital, Australia.


Among the most prominent health or medical stories covered in 1994 by the Australian news media was that concerning an HIV positive hospital obstetrician and the attempt by the New South Wales Health Department to trace and test 149 women on whom he had operated. All press and television coverage of the issue was reviewed. The surface news narrative of the search for missing, "innocent" mothers potentially infected with a deadly and infectious illness is shown to serve as a "hard news" pretext enabling a wider major discourse to operate about a health system accused as being captive to gay and civil libertarian politics, allowing "guilty" doctors at high risk of HIV to endanger "innocent" patients. Expert consensus held that the women were at "infinitesimal risk" of acquiring HIV. However, media accounts of the investigation all but belied this, illustrating that the news media's framing of risk has more to do with its reproduction of moral outrage components than with "scientific" notions of calculable risk.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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