Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Sound Bite And The Fury



# 2213




Yesterday the summer doldrums were abruptly broken by news out of Indonesia that 3 people had died, and 13 more were hospitalized in a tiny village in North Sumatra, and that bird flu was suspected



This suspected diagnosis, tentative and unconfirmed, was credited in most early news reports to comments made by an unnamed nurse at the hospital where a number of the patients were being treated.



Since that time, practically every major news organization around the world has picked up, and run with this story.    Here are a few examples of headlines overnight:



Thirteen more bird flu suspects detected in North Sumatra Jakarta Post - National News 07:37

Three Dead In Bird Flu Outbreak In Sumatra Nasdaq - Global Markets 06:47

Three die in bird flu outbreak in Sumatra Gulf Times - Philippines/East Asia 06:35

Three dead in bird flu outbreak in Indonesia The Peninsula - World News 01:33

Suspected bird flu strikes Sumatra TV3 - Latest News 00:56



Notice how some newspaper headlines have screamed `Bird flu Outbreak', while other's have more judiciously inserted the word `Suspected' into their titles.




In any event, nearly 24 hours after those first reports surfaced, we don't know much more than we did when all of this started.   Each news wire story seems to be a rehash of earlier reports, adding very little of note.



From the symptoms described in the early news accounts, these suspected cases could be  suffering from a great many diseases, of which the H5N1 bird flu virus is only one.    Malaria Dengue, Chikungunya, and even seasonal flu are all possibilities, along with more exotic diseases as well.  



The recent poultry deaths in the village, which some reports have claimed tested positive for the H5N1 virus (other accounts dispute that), are circumstantial evidence at best.



Maybe this is a bird flu outbreak, and maybe it isn't.


For now, I have no feeling either way as to what is really going on in North Sumatra.  We simply don't have enough evidence to judge.  



Today, in fact, some news accounts appear to be backing off on the presumptive `bird flu' angle just a bit.  


This from Reuters.




Indonesia testing 13 for bird flu in Sumatra village


JAKARTA (Reuters) - Thirteen people from a village in North Sumatra are due to be tested for bird flu after falling sick, Indonesian health officials said on Thursday.


The 13, from Air Batu village, were hospitalised this week after suffering fever, but their conditions had improved on Thursday and they might not be suffering from the disease, a health official said.


A bird flu surveillance team from Indonesia's health ministry has been sent to the area.

(Continue. . . )



This, of course, may be nothing more than Indonesian damage control at work.  Testing is underway, and we should know in the next few days.  



If this is the real deal, we'll know soon enough.



In the meantime, I, along with the rest of the flu bloggers (see the sidebar links) will continue to cover this story as events unfold.



Stay tuned.