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Article review - pandemic hysteria

View Poll Results: Is the potential H5N1 virus pandemic over-rated?
No, and I'm preparing for the worst!! 0 0%
I'm not sure, but watching it carefully. 1 25.00%
Not really sure, ignoring it for now. 2 50.00%
It's a bunch of hooey! 1 25.00%
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Old 03-24-2006, 11:59 AM
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Article review - "Selling 'pandemic flu' through a language of fear"


I just ran across an interesting counterpoint to a lot of the doom, gloom, and hysteria that seems to be being predicted by much media on this Bird Flu topic. In an article entitled, "Selling 'pandemic flu' through a language of fear," Peter Doshi casts significant doubt on the seriousness of this so-called and potential pandemic.

One of the major problems, according to Peter, is the use of the word, pandemic. From what he says, the people who may be correctly using the word in relation to the H5N1 virus are scientists, flu researchers. And when they use that word, they mean something quite different than the meaning in the regular dictionary. As a result, there is confusion.

There was a pandemic (according to the scientists' meaning of the word) in the United States in 1968 -- and the death toll from the flu in the USA that year was 34,000. But during an "average" flu season, the death toll is around 36,000. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated in response to Peter's criticism that, "it cannot be assumed a priori that pandemics will cause more mortality than interpandemic seasons."

So what is it that flu and virus researchers mean when they use the word "pandemic?" According to Peter,
To influenza researchers, "a pandemic" occurs when the flu virus in wide circulation has changed more dramatically than the normal seasonal variation. While important to flu virologists, it's not clear what relevance this viral caveat holds for the average American. As historian John Barry recently put it, "The last time a new influenza virus reached pandemic levels was in 1968, but the episode was not significantly deadlier than a typical bad flu season. Few people who lived through it even knew it occurred."
With the way that the World Health Organization, and other officials, sell the pandemic, I agree with Peter, who says this: "One begins to wonder whether some officials might not cherish their worst case scenario, and even see vindication in it." But not only officials, but the commercial press as well. Doom, gloom, hysteria and controversy sell newspapers and magazines.

Except for the fact that it is too America-centric, I like Peter's conclusion:
There are better ways to promote America's health than selling sickness through the language of fear. Before the government employs "all instruments of national power," including "quarantine authority," as the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza declares, we need to be told what "pandemic flu" really means. So far, we have not been given the full story in plain language.
The original piece can be found here.


Last edited by Questor; 04-01-2006 at 09:29 AM..
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Old 03-24-2006, 12:14 PM
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Readers of this thread may also be interested in this other one on the topic.

Last edited by Questor; 03-24-2006 at 12:37 PM..
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Old 03-24-2006, 01:15 PM
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You can listen to the skepticism of a graduate student and a historian if you wish, but I prefer to rely on medical experts like virologists and geneticists. They say the avian virus is mutating and we are in for a disaster like the 1918 pandemic if it becomes easily passable from human to human.

Most human flu occurs pandemically. What really matters is the mortality rate of the specific flu virus. Ordinary flu normally kills 1%-2% of infected people (mostly the very old and very young.) The human mortality rate of avian flu has been well over 50% and most of those who died were in the prime years of life.

I agree that people shouldn't panic because that will make the situation worse. They should get smart by keeping abreast of the latest developments and making preparations for dealing with an avian flu epidemic in their hometowns in case it happens.
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Old 03-25-2006, 04:07 AM
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I'm terrible about paying attention to stuff like this. But when I read a thread of articles (like the one Bill put up), I do get a little nervous. I don't know what the correct path is, but my little inner voice tells me that it might be wise to know what's going on.

On a side note, I had no idea the death toll during normal flu season was so high. Wow!
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