Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hyped Bird-Flu story of the week

This week's winner is the Associated Press. Reporter Margie Mason probably didn't come up with this headline today, "Bird Flu Explodes in Indonesia", because reporters don't generally write the headlines — editors do. At any rate, the hype is front and center. Explodes. Sounds scary.

We learn in the story's horse-race-like lead that Indonesia "averaged one human bird flu death every 2 1/2 days in May," which apparently puts the archipelago of 17,000 islands with a population of 220 million people "on pace to soon surpass Vietnam as the world's hardest-hit country." On pace, huh? Better hurry, Indonesia, or you'll miss out on the first place prize.

Buried in the story's 12th paragraph is the meat and potatoes: "Indonesia has logged at least 36 human deaths in the past year - 25 since January - and is expected to soon eclipse Vietnam's 42 fatalities. The two countries make up the bulk of the world's 127 total deaths since the virus began spreading in Asian poultry stocks in late 2003."

OK, let's review: 36 dead in Indonesia in the past year; 42 in Vietnam; 127 worldwide since 2003. About 13 of those deaths have occurred in Indonesia in May (a death every 2.5 days). Sounds pretty dire. Indeed, it's as the Bird Flu as exploded in Indonesia. I don't know about you, but when think of "explodes," I think of like a bomb going off, or something; shrapnel and debris flying every which way, engulfing a large area.

Thing is, this explosion may not be all it's cracked up to be. According to the World Health Organization, there haven't been any new cases of the H5N1 infection there since May 22. "This finding is important," the WHO's Web site says, "as it indicates that the virus has not spread beyond the members of this single extended family." The WHO (what a great acronym, huh?) also notes that the last guy in the recently infected "cluster" started showing signs of symptoms on May 15 and died seven days later because he refused to be treated at the hospital.

So, you be the judge. Is "explodes" right on, or is it hype?

2 Comments:

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