Kamis, 04 September 2008

Bird Flu: The Pandemic That Hasn't Happened (Yet)

When was the last time YOU thought about bird flu? These days the public and the news media are treating the continued threat of a worldwide pandemic with a great big yawn. Bird flu is so yesterday!

Here’s an interesting exercise you could give your students: Ask them to search a key phrase such as “bird flu”, “avian influenza” or “H5N1” in any major newspaper with a searchable archive (such as the New York Times), arrange the retrieved documents by date, and count them. I searched “avian flu” in the New York Times recently and found that references peaked at 181 in 2006 and have since fallen to a paltry 18 in the first eight months of 2008.

Psychologists surely would have something to say about how long we can sustain our fear of a perceived threat that doesn’t materialize quickly. Health officials worry that if we become convinced that bird flu is not a threat any more, we will begin to make political and economic choices that direct our resources away from preparedness programs. And no one knows whether or not that would be a good idea at this point.

What do you think?

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