SEVERAL YEARS ago, a physician practicing in a mediumsized New England city began to see an increase in cases of Lyme disease among his patients. Within weeks, the apparent outbreak received wide coverage in the local news media, and he started to get anxious phone calls from patients, community groups, and reporters. The questions they asked did not have simple answers: What causes Lyme disease? How could it be diagnosed? Were treatments effective, and how fast did they work? Who was at risk? Was the disease contagious? Could it be prevented? How could children in schools and day care be protected? What were the local and state health departments doing about the problem?
This type of scenario is becoming increasingly common as newly emerging infectious diseases affect American communities and resurgence of old diseases demands our attention. Effective communication about risk of infectious diseases is essential1 to avoid or minimize