Each and every day a small, largely unsung army of volunteers begin their work, searching through hundreds of news sites from around the world, looking for any bits of information they can glean about avian flu and other emerging infectious diseases.
This is difficult, exacting, sometimes mind-numbing work. Particularly when dealing with languages like Arabic or Chinese.
`Bird Flu' in Arabic is انفلونزا الطيور - in Bahasan, it is `Flu Burung' - and in Turkish it is kuş gribi. Bird flu in Chinese (simplified) is 禽流感 (the "Birds and beasts flu")
Newshounds literally have lists of dozens of words and phrases in each language they search on.
In Chinese, `Unexplained fever' is 不明原因的发烧.
As you can see, just finding the articles that need to be translated is a major undertaking.
They then use a variety of translation programs to turn Bahasan, or Arabic, or Chinese into some semblance of English. Often, they will use more than one translation system, to try to get the most readable result.
Sometimes they are even forced to do a word-by-word translation using a foreign language dictionary.
Even then, it takes experience and knowledge of idioms and local customs to properly interpret these stories - skills that many of these newshounds have developed over these many months (and sometimes years) of volunteer work.
Research posted on one site soon propagates (with attribution) to the other flu sites, and often shows up here in this blog and in others as well. Many of the newshounds post to multiple venues.
Even though only a fraction of the work these volunteers do each day ends up in this blog, I read almost everything they post. During the winter it isn't unusual for well over a hundred translated articles, coming from a half-dozen different nations, to appear on the various flu forums over a 24-hour period.
The amount of work these folks put in is simply staggering.
Be glad you don't have to pay for it.
Their work isn't restricted to avian flu, either. Newshounds often translate articles on Dengue, Typhoid, Malaria, Ebola, Crimean-Congo Fever, Rift Valley Fever, Nipah, Hendra, and other emerging infectious diseases.
It is pretty safe to say that if there is a major outbreak of any infectious disease, anywhere in the world, one of our newshounds will probably know about it, and post it, days before the mainstream press.
In fact, last December, the newshounds had the first reports of human H5N1 infections in Pakistan 4 DAYS before the English Language papers mentioned it.
I fully expect that if a pandemic erupts, we will get our first warning from these dedicated volunteers.
It would be impossible for me to list all of the newshounds working on the various flu forums. I do make it a practice to give a thanks, or a hat-tip, to each newshound as I reference their work.
Our thanks and a little recognition is literally the only `pay' they get. That, and knowing that they may save some lives by providing us with an early warning of the next pandemic.
Some names do seem to crop up more often than others, however: Dutchy, Ironorehopper, Treyfish, Commonground, Niman, Florida1, DemFromCt, SusanC, Kobie, Carol@SC, Pixie, mojo, bgw in MT, Readymom, pugmom, Frenchiegirl, AlohaOr, UK-Bird, Rick, Canada Sue, Mosaic, Cottontop, Influentia2, Mojo, Michelle in OK, Mary In Hawaii, dbg, flubergasted, Laidback Al, Alaska Denise, Siam, InKy, History Lover . . .
There are many others, of course. My sincere apologies to those I failed to name.
When you think about it, the Internet Flu community is a remarkable achievement. It wasn't planned. No one said, "Here, you do this . . .I'll do that . . .and we'll get someone else to to the other . . . and pretty soon we'll have a community!".
No one is in charge. It just sorta happened.
The various flu forums, while certainly overlapping in some areas, each have found their own niche and style. Many of us belong to more than one forum, finding different things to value in each venue.
These forums are more than just places where people discuss pandemic flu, they are huge repositories of scientific information and are used like reference library's by researchers from all over the globe.
Flu forums are literally `think tanks' where serious discussions take place. Make no mistake, many of the members have a solid understanding of the science behind pandemic flu. Some members are scientists, or doctors, or other health professionals, but even the `lay' members could give some of the experts a run for their money.
People got together, saw a need, and decided to do something about it.
And that's pretty much how the newshounds evolved. Forum members recognized the need for finding, translating, and posting foreign news reports, and so they decided to tackle the problem themselves.
And as a personal aside, I can tell you that the sense of camaraderie and support among the flu bloggers is nothing less than amazing. I'm blessed to be working along side the likes of Crof, the Reveres, Scott, DemFromCt, SophiaZoe, Ma Yingshen, and Jackie.
Class acts, one and all.
Somehow, without a blueprint or a director, we've all managed to create this virtual community we call Flublogia. Forum owners and moderators, newshounds, posters, bloggers, reporters, researchers . . . . an eclectic bunch that together is much more than the sum of its parts.
And we're discovering that, when you work together for the common good, you can sometimes do truly remarkable things.