The recent furor over Avian Flu has no doubt led many of us to believe that a dangerous worldwide pandemic looms on the horizon. There is little doubt in the scientific community that should the H5N1 strain of the virus mutate into a form easily communicable between humans, the virus will show much greater potency than current pathogenic influenza viruses, owing to the lack of immunity within the population of this new ‘avian’ form.
Yet just what can governments and scientific bodies do to allay fears and combat the disease? In the latter regard, there is precious little which can be done beyond monitoring the condition in the bird populations. So why then is the disease so readily in the popular news? Are we seeing the same variety of overhyped scare-mongering that accompanied the BSE/vCJD crisis of the previous decade? In 2000, the BBC used the headline CJD deaths ‘quadrupled since 1995’ to illustrate a meagre rise in the real term numbers of cases (unfortunately the page can no longer be found on the BBC website, the link uses Google’s cache). Of course, given the way that particular disease manifested itself there was every chance that should an epidemic result, the clock would already be ticking for a vast section of the population.