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Nature as a bioterrorist:
how to cover the next
microbial war
Two wars broke out in 2003…
A disease epidemic is like an
invasion of human society

 Its effects can be as devastating as a conventional war: The human cost of SARS: 8,098 infected, 774 died The SARS virus targeted vital social infrastructure: in this case  It caused transportation systems to shut down: airports in places like Hong Kong and Singapore were deserted  Education came to a standstill: schools and universities were  The economy was hit hard: US$ 30 billion in lost production,  “In this region we are more likely to be invaded by microbes than by a foreign army” Chua Jui Meng, Health Minister of Malaysia.
Health reporters should prepare to
be “war correspondents”

 Global disease epidemics from new viruses are becoming part of life, and its something  Since the 1970s, at least 20 previously  The next global disease that is likely to emerge is pandemic influenza, based on an Avian Flu, or bird flu.
flu virus has learned toinfect human beings (H5N1) the normal flu virus-around55 percent of those infecteddie. In the case of normalflu, it is less than 1 percent  A highly pathogenic avian flu virus broke out  According to the WHO, so far 150 mil ion birds have either died from the disease orbeen culled.
 This virus at present has a limited capacity to infect human beings: there have been 115human cases in Indonesia, Vietnam,Cambodia, Thailand, with 59 deaths.
What scientists are worried

 At present, the virus does not travel from  It is only a matter of time before the virus acquires the ability to transmit easily from  Why would it be worse than normal flu ? Because this virus is much more virulent, and estimated to have kil ed between 20 and 40mil ion people  The death toll from an influenza pandemic today is expected to be in the mil ions, acrossthe world in a very short time.
 The human and economic consequences wil From the SARS experience in
Hong Kong

 When a disease epidemic strikes, society grinds to a  There is panic everywhere: people are afraid of  You yourself as a journalist will be worried about  There are few reliable sources of information: because this is a new kind of disease, no one knowvery much about it  Readers will depend on you for accurate information Keeping focussed on a few key

In the midst of panic, your readers wil wantto know a few basic questions How is the disease being transmitted, whtcauses it, and how can I protect myself? What are the public health authorities doing,and are they doing the right thing.
 These questions are basic, but in the initial stages of an epidemic, it is extremely difficult to get clearinformation about any of this.
 Because this is a new kind of diseases, there is little scientific evidence available. Scientists and publichealth officials are reluctant to talk because they arestill trying to figure out the disease for themselves  A lot of the figures will be ambiguous. Eg: you will get figures on “probable cases”- what is a probablecase, and when does it get confirmed? Start preparing now…
stockpiles, hospital capacity, what are the Availability of drugs. At present, only one anti-viral, Tamiflu is thought to be effective.
Stocks are in short supply, prices are high.
 Vaccines can only be manufactured with any confidence when the new virus actuallymakes an appearance. There wil be a four tosix month lag time. Which governments wilbuy up the supplies?  What is the avian flu virus doing? Is it getting closer to becoming a virus that can transmiteasily among humans? Sources of information
 For pandemic planning- national government  For drugs, vaccines, behaviour of the virus,   Another useful site on disease outbreaks:  Don’t cry wolf all the time:avoid doing over alarming sensational stories about howmany people are going to die, how terrible itwil be etc.
 Instead focus on specific issues- government planning, drugs, vaccines, evolution of thevirus.


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