Cooperation and respect among health care facilities around the world is the first thought coming to mind when thinking of avoiding panic where infectious diseases are concerned. WHO and CDC workers are not in this field to promote anything other than control of infectious diseases, sharing of methods and information, and relaying statistics and making accurate and predicting possible outcomes. Uppermost in their minds is ensuring public alertness as to what probably will happen in a way that will keep them aware and listening, but not frightening. It is a tall order. From where I stand both are doing a commendable job, and neither are inciting panic. Any panic that is visible is from a few circulating facts that have little or no truth behind them. Or so I believe. What do those who deal with this problem say?
Doctor Peter M Sandman: Like many public health officials around the world (and in the U.S.), officials in Italy often say the ongoing pandemic is like the seasonal flu. An Italian science journalist wrote to ask if I share her objections to making the pandemic sound normal in this way. I do Yet a few paragraphs down he thought through that exchange with a reader and explained that was not technically accurate because potentially the swine flu and seasonal flu are different. Dealing with them in the same way and allowing the people not to worry would bring about complacency. And complacency is not what you want when dealing with an unpredictable flu virus. And as he saw it – and he afterthoughts have been proven right – the H1N1 virus is different from the seasonal flu while averting panic is important it should not be done at the expense of being unprepared for a sudden upsurge in virology.
People need to know the facts and need to take them seriously while at the same time not resorting to panic. A perfect plan on how to do this properly is not available since the nature of people and their built in alarm system when dealing with panic and fear is fight or flight. Flight is substituted here for being prepared and ready for possible outcomes. As the expert on such communications tells us people need to made aware.
What is the worst cruelty, he asks, telling the people the truth about possible dangers or soothing them and telling them not to worry and allowing them later to be caught unprepared when the virus strikes full force. Include worst case scenarios as one of the uncertainties mentioned, but without undue emphasis not antagonizing those who decide to wait it out a bit longer.
When first thinking through the topic at this stage of H1N1, 11/16/09, I looked around and generally saw no panic. People are traveling, borders are not closed and while the two flu strains are similar, both are being dealt with somewhat simultaneously. The news is not being filled with dreadful thoughts and doomsday predictions. To find these you must research on the internet and, if you have a mind to, you will change your thoughts to something near panic when assessing who said what and whose fingers are pointing at who to blame.
It is inevitable that individuals react to information differently, it’s the way we are. I say the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is the best place to research to find out how to react to pandemics and other infectious disease information. While they may not be perfect they will closer to the truth and will know how to ease your concerns or to provoke you to action should you need be.
Even panic when danger is imminent is a good thing. It’s when it is tipped off by innuendoes and false rumors that it is bad. Therefore, as the health scientists well know, there is an art to sharing information and while at the same time not inciting panic.