A recent Dr. Oz show featured the XMRV research and possible ties to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS). It was about a 12 minute segment that had some good information, but I did find some aspects a bit troubling.
The Good Points
- Dr. Oz clearly presents himself as a believer in ME/CFS.
- The guests (Dr. Donnica Moore and a woman with ME/CFS) came across as credible and knowledgeable.
- The description of symptoms, although brief, gave an accurate depiction of what ME/CFS is like.
- Video animation of a retrovirus entering the DNA was a great way to help people understand XMRV.
- The PR value is probably incalculable. When the woman with ME/CFS described how a doctor dismissed the very suggestion of ME/CFS and sent her to a psychiatrist, audience members gasped and shook their heads. They got it.
- Internet searches for XMRV were off the charts the day of and day after the show, meaning more people are learning about the latest research.
The Bad Points
As a former TV news producer, I have a very critical eye when it comes to accuracy, and I understand how powerful a televised message can be. It was this side of me that raised the most red flags. The ME/CFS Guide part of me was concerned about how a couple of points could be taken as well.
- The show opened with scare tactics, which TV folks use a lot to get people emotionally invested in a topic. The problem is, once fear is raised, people tend to reach the worst possible conclusions and react with their hearts instead of their heads -- we don't want panic over ME/CFS and XMRV.
- At the beginning of the show, Dr. Oz asked the question, "Is a retrovirus what's making you exhausted?" Then he said we'd learn the symptoms. It sounded like he was saying we'd learn the symptoms of XMRV, and to date we know of none. I don't believe he differentiated enough between what's linked to XMRV and what's linked to ME/CFS.
- Dr. Oz was using numbers from the work done after the published XMRV study and never mentioned that this was a first step, not a definitive answer.
- The transmission question got very little time. They said that it wasn't spread though the air and that it could be spread through blood. That could make people who haven't had a blood transfusion say they couldn't psossibly have it, when we know that's not the case.
- When talking about treatments, the very last thing mentioned -- which is what people generally remember most -- was exercise. Dr. Oz gave an example of what might be appropriate exercise (walking to the mailbox everyday), but didn't make it clear that too much exercise can make you worse. I'm afraid this could perpetuate the idea that people with ME/CFS "just need more exercise."
While I think those aspects of the show could have been better, I think that overall the show was pretty successful. Dr. Oz has picked ME/CFS as a topic several times now, for his show and his magazine column, and that's obviously doing a lot to raise awareness of how very real and serious it is. The Google searches alone testify to the fact that people are more interested, and these people are approaching ME/CFS as a virus-related illness. How's that for something new?
If you'd like to see it, most of the segment (minus the 2 minutes of scare tactics at the beginning) is available on YouTube: Dr. Oz on XMRV.
What did you think of the show? Do you agree that it made a positive impact? Was there anything that concerned you about it? I'd love to hear your opinions -- leave your comments below!
Learn more or join the conversation!
- The XMRV Discovery Series index
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms Checklist
- Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
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