Intended for healthcare professionals



BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 20 February 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:544 If the function of information is to reduce uncertainty, how much has to be prescribed and in what form in order to treat the anxiety of a “health scare”? The current strategy for controlling the transmission of meningococcal meningitis depends on immunising contacts ofcases rather than the entire population, but as the media reports each tragedy it becomes increasingly necessary to explain and justify that strategy to the wider public.

The internet ought to be an ideal medium for this, allowing precise and specific information tobe accessed by the widest possible readership, but how reliable is the information and how easy isit to find? The site on Southampton University's server ( is educational. It was put up by the university's department of public affairs during the outbreak in Southampton in 1997 and reported the progress of the affected students. It is a useful model of the way in which a community can be kept informed. Web television is not far away: public health departments will want to ensure that their HTML skills are sufficient to communicate with the populations that they care for

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There are no links from Southampton University's site to that of the Public Health Laboratory Service (, but if you make your way there you will find that, centrally at least, Britain's public health physicians are rising to the challenge. Although the site's designers have been unable toresist a heavily graphical front end that downloads slowly, the site is well organised and provides high quality information from the laboratory's bulletins and Communicable Disease Reports. This illustrates the point that, as the web matures, trusted institutions publishing their own information provide a viable strategy for tackling the well recognised problem of unreliable information on the net.

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