Thursday, November 20, 2008

Newshounds: They Cover The Pandemic Front



# 2483



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.



Their efforts appear on flu forums like Flutrackers, the Flu Wiki, Plan For Pandemic, CurEvents and PFI or in blogs such as CrofsblogChen Qi or Pandemic Information News .   



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.  


Volunteer groups, like the Readymoms, or Students Prep America, or the team that put together GetPandemicReady.Org, evolved out of the flu forums.  


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.


ReadyMom said...

I One Hundred Percent agree with you, FM!

I have had the great pleasure to work with many good people through ReadyMoms, GetPandemicReady, at RMA events when we had volunteers respond to our call for help, while attending National summits & conferences, or just emailing and talking on the phone.

The folks who have met virtually through the forums have created an unusual community with a single goal for the good of mankind. The folks that I have met are kind, hard working, selfless people who are doing all this on their own time, with no other goal than that. Some have been fortunate to arrange 'real-person' meetings throughout the past couple of years and others have worked together on projects.

I'm honored to have become a part of such a community.

Anonymous said...


It is kind and assuring to once again, see your good character and thoughtfulness in acknowledging all these wonderful folks. It's great that you take the time to remind the many silent daily readers, such as myself, of this world of dedicated folks who devote so much of their time and talent to "watching the horizon" for the good and protection of the rest of us.

But since I know you wouldn't feel it appropriate to include yourself in your thoughtful recognition of all these others, someone must thank *you* sincerely for your own dedication and contribution. Your daily product is like the meta-analysis in a field of scientific research, summarizing and analyzing and giving your measured perspective on the many others' contributing publications. You also take so much of your time to investigate each day, and bring to the rest of us succinct and valuable summaries of your own extensive and time-intensive reviews of the other wonderful folks' reports. Without your doing what you do, how many less involved or knowledgeable readers, just as worried about this impending threat, would have the time, resources or awareness to do the research you do. You're a vital link in this information chain, and so many of us owe *you* our thanks for always being their, reporting your findings to us.

Thanks Mike - and thanks to all those you've mentioned and alluded to in this posting.

Anonymous said...

A very well-done article. Thank you for all your work on this matter.

Kobie said...

Thank you.

For me the hard part is knowing any of the posts get read so this bit of recognition helps (just needed some holiday time to find it)

Mike - thank you for mentioning me when you did not have to.

Thanks to all the journalists and papers reporting the stories instead of ignoring them.

Its good to see so many people from different countries workign together.

I need to thank people like you, Pogge, DemFromCT, Nimbus, AlohaOR who pay for all this just so we can have a place to work and help.

Do not forget US dep of HHS webcast on Jan 28th at 2 pm.

Kind Regards,
"Everything I know never changed my mind as much as the one thing I did not" - Kobie