Dr. Marc Siegel, author of ''False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear," blasts bird flu expert Robert Webster of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in an editorial in the Boston Globe.
Siegel wrote that Webster â€śtold ABC News this week that there were ''about even odds at this time for the virus to learn how to transmit human to human,â€™ and ''society just can't accept the idea that 50 percent of the population could die. . . . I'm sorry if I'm making people a little frightened, but I feel it's my role.â€™ â€ś
Siegel disagrees with Webster, calling it â€śthe latest Hitchcockian pronouncementâ€? about the bird flu. He writes: â€śWhy provoke the public to see a potential pandemic in end-of-the-world terms? A pandemic simply means people in several areas having a disease at the same time -- but it may be hundreds rather than millions. The last flu pandemic, in 1968, killed 33,800 Americans, which is about the flu's toll in an average year. We don't need to panic in advance for that kind of pandemic.
Cooking poultry kills any flu 100 percent of the time, yet the fear of H5N1 bird flu is already so out of control in Europe that 46 countries have banned French poultry exports after a single turkey was found to be infected. France, fourth in the world in poultry exports, is already hemorrhaging more than $40 million a month.
Imagine what would happen if a bird in the United States gets H5N1 bird flu. At the rate we are going, the fear of birds will be so great that our own poultry industry, number one in the world, is likely to be in shambles. We already have this problem with mad cow disease, where a single sick cow that is not even in the food chain makes people very nervous, despite the fact that it is almost impossible to get mad cow disease from eating beef.
Flu is worthy of our concern. But concern can lead to long term preparation whereas panic can be far more virulent and costly than the bird flu itself.â€?