A recent article by the New York Daily News on a little-known disease spread by raccoons left some readers rabid over missing information.
The May 3 story was about “Raccoon Ringworm,” however, the disease is actually called “Raccoon Roundworm.” Ringworm is a common fungal infection while roundworm is a less common infestation by nematodes. The Daily News eventually corrected their mistake but did not notify readers of this change.
The article spoke with a lone official, Sally Slavinski of the NYC Health Department, but neglected to mention that Slavinski is a veterinarian. The Daily News never bothered to ask for a medical doctor’s view on the impact of the disease.
The story stated that the disease is spread by contact with raccoon feces. While one of the two victims of the disease had traveled Upstate, the second hadn’t, but the Daily News never probed farther than that leaving readers wondering if they too were at risk.
Commenters on the Daily News’ site voiced many questions the report failed to address:
“How did this baby get it? How, how , how? the baby was not playing out doors or indoors, so this needs more investigation and explanation, sir………” said commenter Mancha de Platano.
“What is the city’s policy regarding animal control with respect to raccoons? The raccoons are very cunning, and able to get into all types places, and they seem not to be afraid of people,” asked commenter eyesnotblue.
Others who viewed the article implied the newspaper was sensationalizing an old disease to sell papers on the heels of the swine flu panic and even shared facts:
“NEWS STOP IT. This is no new STOP SPREADING PANIC,” (sic) said commenter Triptosane.
“Lets get this right, it is not a ringworm, it is a roundworm. As a wildlife rehabilitator, I have raised hundreds of raccoons and have never had a problem. As with anything you should watch your children, I mean they can get worms from a dog or cat as well!!! The chance of contracting Baylisascaris procyonis as the roundworm is called is extremely small. Reporters…get your stories straight!!” said commenter banditmama.
“FACT CHECK THIS STORY – ITS INCORRECT!!! you morons need to fact-check your story – there is no such thing as raccoon RINGworm… its raccoon ROUNDworm, and it has completely different side effects. You are going to start a health panic. Please update your story!” said commenter dailynewsfactchecker, who also included a link to the CDC’s Web site on the rare disease.
In as much as we are living in an information age, we are also living in a misinformation age. Unfortunately for those who publish poorly researched stories, the watchful eyes of the online community can see the forest from the trees and are quick to place the blame where blame lies: on lazy journalists.