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A Common Virus

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A Common Virus

A Common Virus

A Common Virus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6843128/6729549" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

"Every single sexually active person is going to get it at some point in their life."

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What?! Who?!

When I first heard a guest on today's program (audio) say those words, I almost stopped the interview to fact check the statement right then and there. I didn't — because I was taping and we could do it later (which we did, in fact, do; see below*). But it made such an impression on me.

The guest — her name is Tamika Felder and she's a women's health advocate — was talking about something called HPV. It's a common virus, harmless to most, but it can cause genital warts as well as cervical cancer and other cancers. I had never heard of it until I read an article she wrote for a women's magazine. I spend hours every day reading, watching and poring over the news. So how could I not know about something that is both so common and yet has serious potential consequences?

One answer is: There is just so much to know — science, history, politics, international affairs. How can anyone keep track of it all? In the news business we struggle with the same question from a different vantage point. With so much going on, how do we choose what to tell you?

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One way to sort through it all is to use events to focus awareness. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. So, that is what we would call a news "peg" — an event on which to hang a story.

Another way is to compartmentalize information into segments. Think of it this way: If programs are like supermarkets; segments are like the aisles. If you want pickles, say, you go down the pickle aisle. If you want mac and cheese, you go down the row for that. While you're there, we hope you'll pick up something else.

We want to do some reporting on health and have been thinking about how to do it. The issues are important and often there are things one needs to know immediately. But how do we make it interesting as well as informative?

Having "met" Tamika through her article we thought, "Here's a personal story that will make this issue very real." And we paired her with Michelle Hannah, an activist who is working to eliminate the HPV virus. We did not go to a traditional medical expert because we thought the science is well established and the personal narrative made the story more accessible.

What do you think of our approach? Does the so-called "bottom-up" method of covering this work for you? Or would you still want to hear from an "expert?" Finally, the issues raised in this segment primarily affect women, but we'd like to ask our male listeners if you find it interesting, as well. Tell us what you think.

*As to Tamika's statement about everyone having HPV, the Centers for Disease Control Web site says the following:

"At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV infection. About 6.2 million Americans get a new genital HPV infection each year."

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