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
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