UTMB researchers at center of Zika virus media coverage

Feb 18, 2016, 10:18 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford
Vasilakis
Nikos Vasilakis prepares for an interview with CBS Evening News in the studio at UTMB.

CBS Evening News. National Public Radio. NBC Nightly News. The New York Times. Univision. The Washington Post. National Geographic. BBC News. KTRK-TV, Ch. 13Houston. KHOU-TV, Ch. 11 Houston. The Houston Chronicle. When it comes to emerging infectious diseases, local, national and international media outlets are turning to UTMB for accurate information.

Zika, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, has received an onslaught of media coverage after being tentatively linked to microcephaly, a neurological condition where a baby is born with an abnormally small head because the brain did not develop correctly.

UTMB’s Media Relations team has received nonstop phone calls and emails from TV and radio stations, online publications and newspapers to interview UTMB researchers, including Scott Weaver and Nikos Vasilakis, who are experts in emerging infectious diseases.

Senior communications specialist Kurt Koopmann sums up all the media attention in three words: “It’s been crazy!”

In fact, between September 2015 and Feb. 2, the team arranged for more than 500 media placements, with more than two billion impressions.

Raul Reyes, UTMB’s Media Relations director, said it’s always a challenge to balance the media requests while also being respectful of a researcher’s time.

“Our intent is to let people know our scientists have this expertise and are trying to improve and save lives, while also making sure we don’t overstep and take up too much of our researchers’ time,” said Reyes. “It’s important to remember that they still need to be able to do critical lab work identifying diseases, developing therapeutics, teaching and taking care of other obligations.”

“It’s fantastic that members of the media are asking us to talk about Zika, but none of this would happen if UTMB didn’t have a world-renowned team of scientists who are experts on infectious diseases. Positive news coverage like this happens because we have faculty members who recognize that speaking to the media helps to educate the public and further position UTMB as a world leader in this area.”

Reyes added that new studio equipment on the Galveston Campus has made it easier to do media interviews, and he’s noticed an increase in all types of media requests, not just regarding Zika.

Visit the UTMB Newsroom at www.utmb.edu/newsroom to see many of the news reports.