But in the age of social media, there are a lot of ways to define the “most popular” stories of the year -- most searched, most read, most shared, most retweeted.
|Read More: 2014 Year in Health|
These stories engaged our readers this year, heightening their awareness of diseases like Ebola and enterovirus D68 and informing them on topics ranging from the state of Alzheimer’s treatment and prevention to signs of suicide after comedian Robin Williams’ death.
Top Health Topic
On WebMD, the most popular topic among readers in 2014 was Ebola.
The viral hemorrhagic fever has claimed more than 6,500 lives across the globe to date and sickened more than 18,000, mainly in West Africa.
Flights and airline routes were affected, national economies were destroyed, and popular pastimes in the hardest-hit countries were shut down.
The outbreak shows little sign of slowing in certain countries like Sierra Leone. The WHO says it expects the outbreak to claim thousands more lives before it ends. Governments and drug companies are scrambling to find any treatments that may work and to develop a vaccine.
It wasn’t until several people were flown back to the United States for treatment beginning in August that interest here began to pick up.
By October, when a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, became the first person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil and infected two nurses who cared for him at a Dallas hospital, the interest skyrocketed.
Overall, searches for “Ebola” on WebMD showed the biggest traffic spike since the 2009 outbreak of swine flu. At its peak, interest in Ebola was up 1,200%. The top search term on the site was “Ebola”; the top question was “How is Ebola transmitted?”
Searches on WebMD for Ebola and other disease-related terms, including “Ebola virus” and “Ebola symptoms,” grew more than 2,800% for the year.
In addition, the WebMD video “How Ebola Kills” was the most-viewed home page video.
News You Can Use
The award for single top news story, however, does not go to Ebola. Instead, it was another infectious disease, enterovirus D68, that had more readers concerned. The respiratory virus sickened over 1,000 people last summer and fall. It was particularly concerning to parents because almost all of the cases were in children, and at least 12 children died from complications of it.
The EV-D68 story was followed closely by another very scary story for parents: an FAQ on “Dry Drowning” where a person can “drown” on dry land, hours after breathing in a small amount of water.
Product recall stories are always popular, so it’s no surprise that topping the list of most-shared Facebook stories was “Fruit Recalled for Possible Listeria Contamination,” a story from July highlighting the recall of peaches, plums, nectarines, and pluots with potential listeria contamination.
The potentially affected fruit came from Wawona Packing Co. in California, and they issued the voluntary recall after concerns about contamination. No illness were associated with the suspected contamination.
This year, we saw the loss of one of America’s favorite entertainers, Robin Williams, to suicide. This tweet was our most retweeted of the year and provided a link to information for our readers to spot signs of suicide early.
Topping our news blog this year was another story related to mental and cognitive health: this expert Q&A about the state of Alzheimer’s research.
UCLA professor of neurology Dale Bredesen, MD, gave an in-depth look at the latest developments in prevention, diagnosis, care, and treatments, as well as helpful hints for Alzheimer’s caregivers.
Bredesen says he believes the next decade -- and in particular the next year or two -- will be the most exciting yet for Alzheimer’s research, with major research on the genetic factors that lead to the disease showing exciting results. As this debilitating illness affects over 5 million Americans and costs our economy over $200 billion a year, those answers can’t come soon enough.