Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Internet Flap Over Quebec


Roughly 24 hours ago a rumor emerged on the Internet regarding a 9 year old supposedly in isolation with `H5N1-like symptoms’ in Quebec. This rumor gained prominence when Dr. Henry Niman, a former cancer researcher, and Internet influenza gadfly, referred to it on his Recombinomics website.

Suspect H5N1 Patient in Rimouski Quebec Canada?
Recombinomics Commentary November 29 2006

Recombinomics has received several independent reports of a nine year old boy hospitalized in Rimouski, Quebec. The patient has pneumonia and is in isolation. More information on H5N1 testing on this patient would be useful.

Patients with H5N1 symptoms in this area are cause for concern.

One should note that Dr. Niman never directly called this an Avian Influenza case, but he did lend this story credence by running with it, and he placed it at the head of a commentary about possible H5N1 outbreaks among birds in Canada. Dr. Niman has long maintained that inadequate testing procedures, and/or governmental duplicity have hidden the extent of H5N1 infection in the North American continent.

Once this story appeared on Dr. Niman’s site, which has a large and loyal following, it was quickly disseminated to the flu forums, and there something interesting happened.

It was, for the most part, questioned as to its validity.

There was no panic, and few posters immediately accepted this as true. It was discussed, and dissected, and in some cases even dismissed. There wasn’t enough detail to ruffle anyone’s feathers.

Snowy Owl, over at FluTrackers, made some phone calls and quickly determined that this rumor was apparently just that: A rumor. From there, word quickly spread to the other flu forums that this story was unverifiable, and likely false.

Despite a spate of news reports later in the day intimating that the flubie community over reacted to this rumor, from my perspective, most flubies reacted quite calmly and rationally. The story was out there, and people commented on it. Several, in fact, did the responsible thing and tried to verify it.

Kudos go to Snowy Owl, who was willing to go the extra mile and dig deeper.

Later in the day, Dr. Niman retracted the story, indicating he may have been victim of a ruse. While it’s unfortunate that Dr. Niman has been caught up in all of this, it does illustrate the folly of passing along unsubstantiated information. It has been reported that another high profile blog site was also approached with this story, and they wisely decided to `wait and see’, rather than publish it.

The desire to ferret out the truth, and to be the first to break the latest pandemic news, is a strong and understandable one. The first human case of avian flu in North America would have been a major story, had it been true.

One of these days, one of these `unsubstantiated reports' will turn out to be valid.

As to who really started this rumor, and their motivations for doing so, we can only guess. Hopefully that too will come out.

Several times a week I receive correspondence from my readers with `tips’, and frankly, I welcome them. Unless I can verify them, I don’t publish them. They are useful, however, as they help me paint a larger picture of what is going on. They can sometimes fill in the gaps, and someday, may even give me advance warning of a breaking story.

But my blog is not a `breaking news’ site, and I make it a practice to hold off on stories until I can research them, verify them, and most importantly, think about them. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I am unlikely to scoop the rest of the Internet when news breaks.

It may not be glamorous, but I can live with that.