I admit to a certain sense of mounting dread about the news of the new H7N9 influenza virus arising in China. And the never-ending supply of Tweets (alarmist and otherwise) are not helping one little bit. That’s why I appreciated this article posted today by Wired reporter and author Maryn McKenna (she’s sometimes referred to as Scary Disease Girl, due to her focus on global health and infectious diseases).
McKenna breaks the current news down into a quick primer, based on her past experiences reporting on that ‘other bird flu’ H5 N1 (remember that one?) ten years ago. She follows with a caution to beware– or at least to be aware– of the sources of news of this quickly moving story, and an explanation of some peculiarities in Chinese media that may hamper or distort reporting. She also draws a parallel between what’s happening now with H7N9 and H5N1– pointing out that the latter never erupted in humans as it was first feared. Says McKenna:
And H7N9 might not, as well. It is far too soon to say, despite the rapidly escalating case count and the reports — which came in while I was writing this — of a possible animal reservoir in pigeons and a possible human-to-human case. I have been writing about flu and possible pandemics since 1997 — for what it’s worth, I wrote the first story in the US in 1997 about that first H5N1 case in Hong Kong — and so at this early point, what I most want to say is this: We all love scary diseases. (If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.) But there is a fog of war in disease emergencies, just as there is in military ones, and it is very easy to get lost in it.
It will take a while for this story to become more clear. Anticipating that, I want to suggest some things to think about as you follow the news.
She ends with this great advice:
[...] Don’t assume that everyone who is loading information onto their blogs or pushing it onto Twitter is doing it in a sharing spirit of helpfulness. There are people — you can see this already — who are opportunistically using this to feed their egos, angle for jobs, or generally to stir up trouble. More than ever, it’s important to be skeptical about the sources of the information you consume.
McKenna makes it easier for us to practice what she preaches by listing several reputable news sources–traditional, web-based and, even on, Twitter– that should be reliable sources of information. You can follow McKenna on Twitter at @marynmck.