A specter is haunting Europe and Asia - the specter of avian flu.
The media have been rapidly spreading the scare as if something horrible is inevitable. People favour less chicken on menus but more Tamiflu, the antiviral drug on prescriptions. It seems the more the public fear, the more sensational the media become. Or is it the other way around?
The year 2005 is the year of the rooster in the lunar calendar. Some note that rooster years were often bloody-in 1909 Japan invaded Korea, beginning a 36-year occupation; in 1933 Hitler came to power; in 1945 the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
Now Hong Kong people fear the rooster-the bird that's supposed to bring good fortune-would this year bring the deadly bird flu? After all we have just recovered from the trauma of SARAS.
But wait a second. Should we be so petrified? While SARS was unheard of when it first struck, and has therefore caused tremendous fear of the unknown, bird flu has been known. There is no proof yet that it can spread between humans. It means the potential global killer might not be as fatal as SARS. Our government has put Hong Kong on the alert. Scientists are working hard in laboratories. Why do we need to get panicky about the bird flu? Why should we let the media rule our lives? And remember, we won the battle two years ago.
The media love bad news. Often news value equals commercial value, and the scary news could amount to scare-mongering.
Faulty “end-of-the-world” warnings can sometimes turn out as non-events. The once-predicted year 2000 catastrophe, aka YK2, was a huge media story in 1999. It was then believed that the computer bug would break down global commerce and industries and governments at the start of the new millennium. Colossal amounts of coverage and speculation fueled the fear. But when January 1,2000 finally came, nothing happened.
Nobody can say for now if the avian flu coverage would just be another YK2.
Most of the media reports have made direct comparisons of the current avian flu to the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed more than 50 million people.
But health conditions in most of the world today are certainly far better than what they were a century ago. Most of us live in reasonably sanitized flats or houses rather than shelters and tents. We have antiviral drugs and well-equipped hospitals. And furthermore, scientists say chances are low for the avian flu mutating to a form as deadly as the Spanish virus.
Bird flu has spread its wings, but I believe life should go on without sporting contagious fear as another disease. Activity screen the bird flu information rather than just follow everything the media have to say. Frankly speaking, on the individual level, there is not much one can do. Keep clean, stay healthy and cook poultry dishes thoroughly. Why not have chicken - our daily delicious?
By the way, it s unfair to single out chicken as bane. The rooster years are blessed very often too. In 1969 the human race first landed on the moon; in 1993 the World Wide Web was born
Written by Bonnie Cao Yining
Edited by Rachel Mok Tsui-yee