How TV News Doctors Covering Zika, Protect Themselves From Getting It

By Chris Ariens 

While much of the nation has been focused on the 2016 race for the White House this week, CBS’s Dr. Jon LaPook and ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser have been reporting from the epicenter of the Zika virus in Brazil. Dr. LaPook, reporting from Recife, along the Atlantic coast, tells TVNewser covering this story has “taken my breath away.”

“I think the challenge is to cover the story comprehensively while being sensitive to the emotional turmoil the parents are going through,” LaPook says. “We were told by one doctor that when the story first broke, journalists from all over the world came to Recife, and that some of them took pictures and video of babies with microcephaly without asking the parents for permission.”

Besser, who joined ABC News in 2009 from the Centers for Disease Control, says he’s been using “a lot of repellent with DEET” to keep from getting infected. Besser made the remarks during a Facebook Q&A Tuesday for people concerned about how Zika is transmitted and for travelers planning trips to the Zika hot zones. It’s been viewed more than a million times to date. NBC’s Rehema Ellis has also been in Recife since last Thursday.


The precautions these medical professionals and their TV news crews are taking follow the lessons learned from covering the most recent pandemic, the spread of Ebola in Africa in 2014. A freelancer working for NBC News was diagnosed with Ebola, which led to a mandatory quarantine for the crew.

“There are so many statistics in the air: perhaps more than 1.5 million people in Brazil infected with Zika, thousands of children with microcephaly, 300 in one hospital alone,” says Dr. LaPook. “It’s hard to take in. But I got a more personal sense of what’s going on as I’ve interviewed parents, and looked into their eyes.”