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Flu Overhyped? Some Say Officials 'Cried Swine'

Flu Overhyped? Some Say Officials 'Cried Swine'

(Source: Associated Press)

Lindsey Tanner and Mike Stobbe, Associated Press

May 11, 2009

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Besser said the outbreak in the United States appears to be less severe than was first feared. But the virus is still spreading and its future potential as a killer is not clearly understood.

“The measures we’ve been talking about — the importance of handwashing, the importance of covering coughs, the real responsibility for staying home when you’re sick and keeping your children home when you’re sick — I’m afraid that people are going to say, ‘Ah, we’ve dodged a bullet. We don’t need to do that,”’ Besser said.

“The thing that’s keeping me up right now is that feeling of dodging the bullet,” he added.

Peter Sandman, a risk communication specialist, says on his website that reminding people the risk is still real and warning them in the future if a pandemic looks imminent “will be extremely difficult.”

“Swine flu looks to be an extremely mild pandemic if it goes pandemic at all, despite WHO warnings that it may ‘come back with a vengeance’ in the fall. People are going to be very, very skeptical,” Sandman wrote.

That concern is shared by infectious disease specialists. But elsewhere, especially online, talk of hype is rampant.

“Adults are acting like a bunch of crybabies in a B-rated science fiction germ-outbreak movie, wringing their hands, whining about what to do next,” Dallas Morning News reader Mark Thompson wrote in a letter to the editor posted online Wednesday.

Whether the media overhyped or accurately reported the dangers is a toss-up, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll published Thursday on Americans’ views of the media’s flu coverage.

The May 5 poll also found that concern about the flu peaked a week ago. But even then, only 25% of Americans said they worried about getting the virus.

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