Brevity in health reporting

Van Der Weyden and Armstrong , the editors of the Australian Medical Journal claim that “reporting medical news entails a special responsibility”. They believe that journalists are responsible for reporting the facts in an accurate “clear and unambiguous manner”, and stress the need for an understanding of the medical condition being discussed. As they say the public generally trust the health system and deserve better reporting of medical issues.


On the November 2010, the
Herald Sun reported that researchers in New Zealand had found a link between young children who have been given paracetamol (panadol) and the development of asthma. They found that those who had been given the drug before the age of 15 months were twice as likely to be affected by the respiratory disease. But what does this very brief two hundred word article actually tell those parents who might want to use panadol for pain relief. Not much.

Panadol is an analgesic, commonly taken for ailments such as headache, period pain, colds flu and fever. The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline doubled its profits in 2009 driven largely by the the sales of the popular over- the- counter pain reliever. But it is not without its side effects, some of which are very serious such as liver toxicity.

The researchers at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand aren’t the first to claim that panadol increases the risk of asthma. Ten years ago it was suggested that panadol might be implicated in the rising levels of asthma and allergic conditions. Before the 1980s aspirin was the drug of choice for pain and fever. It is thought that the replacement of aspirin by panadal may be the reason for an increased immune response and the likelihood of asthma.

Researchers are not clear why panadol increases the risk of asthma but think that the drug may affect how the body handles oxidative stress accelerating the allergic immune response.

Richard Beasley, the Director of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand says that the recent studies into the links between panadol and asthma have led to further debate about the treatment of fever in children. Fever is a response to an illness and not a disease in itself and the suppression of this natural response may be harmful. Researchers are recommending that the use of medications to reduce fever should be discouraged.

In the interests of the public and in accordance with accurate reporting the article that appeared in the Herald Sun needs to include the above analysis.


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