Rumour and prevention

by on Friday, 22 May 2009 Comments
Last week, the Internet showed again its formidable rapidity: on Sunday night (May 19 2009), a prolonged but moderate earthquake shook the area of Los Angeles. Almost instantaneously, people started to flood Twitter with messages and the news of the earthquake was coursing through the world of microblogging long before the Internet press published the information. Rumours on the Internet can spread like pandemics and the way to control their nuisance could be equally employed to prevent pandemics.

As the main task of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is to be a worldwide health monitor, teams of the organization also dedicate themselves to track down the rumours of illnesses on the Internet in order to analyse them and evaluate the risks of pandemics. Nevertheless, the evolution of any flu virus is totally unpredictable, which makes it very difficult to foresee its extent of danger. In the case of the “swine flu”, the WHO has been very careful to prevent a repetition of the panic effect produced during the SARS epidemic. This time round, they have been more watchful with the terms used during informative campaigns. Recently, I heard on the radio a doctor working at the WHO insisting on the fact that the correct name of the flu is “A/H1N1 influenza”. Beyond what could seem to be an excess of pretentiousness, it is indeed important not to encourage false associations of ideas which could create paranoia and generate disastrous consequences such as the recent mass slaughtering of pigs in Egypt. Furthermore, the expression “swine flu” is inappropriate: despite its swine origin, the virus has not been yet isolated on animals and is only transmitted between humans. ’The Mexican flu’ or ’the North American flu” are different names used to define the A/H1N1 flu and they show how difficult it is to apprehend the pandemic, Le Monde even pinned the term “grey flu” (“grippe grise”) to underline the uncertainty experienced by organizations and States when it comes to taking decisions and measuring their efficiency.

The recent outbreak of A/H1N1 flu in Japan has caused the government to take special measures such as closing down more than 4000 schools while health officials called for calm, stressing that the virus had not caused any deaths in Japan and that most cases were relatively mild.
Cerise Phiv (張俐紫)

Former Managing Editor of


Tweets @cerisefive

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