News Tip: Duke Expert on Impact of Language in Dealing With Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

World Health Organization officials have labeled MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, as a great health concern that poses "a threat to the entire world." Recent reports say the virus has spread beyond the Middle East to Italy. Priscilla Wald Professor of English and Women's Studies, Duke University  Wald researches the intersections among science, law and literature. Her book, "Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative," explores the idea of contagions and the global health implications of emerging infections. Her forthcoming book, "Human Being After Genocide," discusses the connections between biology and politics.  Quote: "Accounts of 'MERS' summon the familiar reminder that emerging infections know no borders and that increasingly global networks amplify the threat of pandemics. "While it is of course imperative to disseminate information about such threats, it is also important to pay attention to the effect of the language used to convey this information. I'm concerned about the effect these accounts will have, for example, on stigmatizing the region. The language of the threat of contagion could contribute to the language of the threat of terrorism, or to the language of revolution, in news reports on the Middle East. And how might popular culture, such as the recent film 'Contagion,' contribute to the public's misperceptions?  "The language of these reports might impede epidemiologists' ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with a public whose lives are at stake."