Thanks to Andrew Noymer for tweeting: "So many distended mosquito abdomen pics in my timeline. It's like entomology porn or something." Porn indeed; it infests health reporting like Aedes aegypti in northeast Brazil, and it too needs to be stamped out.
Since I start looking at such Zika porn starting around 6:00 every morning, you'd think I'd be inured to it. But I'm not. However advanced a country may be, its media seem to think its readers won't understand reports on disease outbreaks without some shocker photo of a blood-gorged mosquito looking the size of a bald eagle:
Sometimes, just for variety's sake, they'll look for the yuck factor in photos like this one:
And by all means we need as many photos as possible of the bellies of heavily pregnant women, just to remind dimwit readers what all the Zika fuss is about:
I could add any number of photos of microcephalic babies, preferably screaming in their mothers' ears, but enough is enough.
Outbreaks of almost every disease inspire similar porn. How many shots have I seen of wretched little Pakistani kids, their mouths squeezed open to receive a drop of polio vaccine? How many black people lying miserable on a cholera bed, with a hole thoughtfully designed to receive their copious evacuations? Or forlorn tots covered with measles spots?
I see this as an attempt, perhaps even well-meant, to educate a healthy but ignorant public in the advanced countries on a subject they have been protected from by generations of good public health and really shitty public-health communication. Big, strapping 21st-century North Americans and Europeans are clueless about infectious diseases, and blithely fly off to countries where such diseases are rampant. All they know about pandemics is what they see in zombie movies.
Full disclosure: As a polio survivor, class of 1948, I'm fully aware of my status as a living fossil. In those days no one quibbled about vaccines—our parents had known classmates who died of measles or influenza or scarlet fever. Since then, half a century of familiarity with good health has bred contempt for the means of achieving it. That contempt, in turn, has bred a complacency that only a major gross-out factor can shake.
Even so, could some of the key editors in 21st-century media, whether print or online, mercifully forbid further use of these porn shots in illustrating stories about Zika and other diseases?