Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Premature Headlines


# 2210






The story out of Indonesia, currently finding its way into many newspapers around the world, is for now just a suspect outbreak.


Until tests are conducted, we can't know if this is avian flu.


A few newspapers, regrettably, are leaving the word `suspected' out of their headlines.



Bird flu outbreak in Indonesia kills 3 : Officials


Published: Wednesday, August 06, 2008


MEDAN, Indonesia - Three people have died and 13 have been admitted to hospital with symptoms of bird flu in Indonesia, a nurse treating the patients said Wednesday.


Officials and residents in Asahan district of North Sumatra province said villagers began showing symptoms of avian flu after a large number of chickens died suddenly last week.


The nurse at Asahan district's Kisaran hospital said three people had died after suffering bird flu-like symptoms in Air Batu village.





I'm sure that this sort of headline draws more attention to the article, but it is a bit premature.    We don't know if this is a bird flu outbreak at this point.



When the reader follows the headline and reads the story, the article does make the important distinction that confirmatory tests are still awaited, but not everyone will read the entire article.



An outbreak of this size, if it is indeed caused by the H5N1 virus, is a big story.    And we may find that this is, indeed, the case.



But for now, we need to view these reports with a bit of skepticism.   The numbers of those affected appear to be fluid, and the only quoted source has been a nurse from a local hospital.



If this turns out to be avian flu, we'll know soon enough.