This is the question facing health officials this week as they grappled with the influenza epidemic, while considering whether to publicize the H5N1 coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East. The virus is being transmitted from person to person — and from person to animal.
Doctors fear such infections may increase as mosquitoes pick up the virus, and swarms of birds acquire the virus before they begin their migratory patterns.
But, the public remains uninformed. Nobody knows exactly how often the virus is transmitted from person to person, and who carries it and how. Scientists calculate that the world’s population is at about a 1 in 500 risk of contracting H5N1. It is impossible to estimate how widely this risk spreads, and which of the 1.8 billion people who reside around the world is most likely to be infected.
The question becomes this: Is it in the public’s interest for health officials to disseminate knowledge about this vaccine-preventable disease that has never mutated to become airborne, which is the primary cause of death? Or are they content to leave it on the radar of affected humans?
The World Health Organization is thinking of raising the alarm, but will that be good or bad? What is it to do when this virus is found in some plant fruit or a chicken? Who knows.