The year 2009 brought advances in medicine, but also major health scares.

In the book Health and the Media, Clive Seale, a professor of medical sociology at Queen Mary, University of London, noted that news media tend to focus on five narratives:

  1. Dangers of modern life.
  2. Villains and freaks.
  3. Victimhood.
  4. Professional heroes.
  5. Lay heroes.

Indeed, media coverage of many health scares in 2009 did concentrate on dangers of modern life, such as new viral threats or contaminants in food and consumer goods, such as the potential health risks of BPA and phthalates in plastic.

"In a variety of ways, popular mass media emphasize the dangers of modern life," Seale wrote. Food scares are another vehicle for alarm, as are new "killer bugs" like the Ebola virus.

Since the most effective victim portrayals in media are generally of children, much concern with safety focuses on child safety, he said.

But the year also included a series of advances in medical research that could help patients in the future. These included:

  • An explosion of studies into the benefits of vitamin D for preventing cancer, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.
  • The first mapping of cancer genomes.
  • Progress toward a vaccine against HIV.

Here are some of the most notable advances and scares of the past year:

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