Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bird flu: Don't panic, unless media tells you to

Slowly but surely, responsible individuals in governments and NGO's are encouraging people to remain calm about the bird flu. WHO's Margaret Chan, Canadian officials, and I believe a European official have all told people to remain calm because this is still a difficult virus to catch. Good common sense advice.

Too bad the media isn't listening. Take this AP article which is about urging calm. The lede is a winner:
People should not panic about a possible influenza pandemic, despite the steady spread of a deadly strain of avian flu among humans, leading health officials and politicians said on Tuesday.
Nice job of editorializing the lede. The fact is it is misleading. Yes, 60 people have died in Asia, but human infections have yet to follow the migrating bird infections. And this article isn't the only example. Nearly every story about the spread of the bird flu fails to mention in a timely manner that it is only steadily spreading among birds, not humans.

Look, panic is a real possibility in the event the bird flu virus mutates and becomes easily transmitted between people. The media, in an effort to attract eyes, is being irresponsible and will bear much culpability if this were to occur. But they will blame everyone they can before their responsibility for panic becomes readily apparent.

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