Blog: Flu deja vu

05-05-2009 | |
Van Der Sluis

We have a new flu case! Hurray, that is big news and for some an opportunity to make a lot of money. Since the beginning of the swine flu or as it is called now, the Mexican flu, we have seen many people panicking and talking about the danger of a new pandemic.

TV and radio commentators, as always, immediately made comparisons with the Spanish flu, which tortured the world a century ago with the death of more than 50 million people, to scare the listener. Did they not do that also at the time the poultry industry was hit by the bird flu? It looks like that virus still is more dangerous than the virus found now. Many specialists, however, like to keep the story going so they can be seen in the media and generate extra public money for their research.

Unfortunately, most of my colleagues from the public media like to follow the hype, or make one, so they attract the attention. Where has the responsible and respected researcher, politician and researcher gone, who talks about the chance of a pandemic when there is a real threat? Let us keep things in the right perspective. The number of casualties from the Mexican flu worldwide is probably less than the number of death caused by the regular flu in a medium-sized city anywhere in the world over the same number of weeks. Alright, we should not underestimate the capabilities of the virus, but influenza specialists should demonstrate better that they have faith in their knowledge and competence to deal with the issues instead of fuelling the scare.

Both the bird flu and swine flu have taught us that there is no reason for immediate panic when discovering a new influenza virus. Researchers, public health specialists and media should question themselves now what to do when the next influenza outbreak crops up. Creating a new panic, which again proves to be a flaw, may make people unconcerned and consequently respond wrongly when there is a real threat in the future.

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