Tuesday, November 6, 2007

WHO: Bird flu in Lebanon...NOT!

A few days ago, I received an SMS on my cell phone with the following text from the World Health Organization (WHO): "Bird (pandemic) flu is dangerous. WHO recommends seasonal flu vaccination. Flu vaccines are still available. For more info ask your doctor or call 01-397039”

Huh? Seasonal flu vaccination can help against the bird flu? Now that’s a first. And what’s all this with putting the fear of God in the Lebanese by implying that the WHO is saying there might be bird flu in Lebanon, so better get your shot fast!? Sure, the text is not saying that exactly, but SMS’es are typically not carefully read so chances are this would be the impression you’d have after reading this message.

And that would be simply misleading. After all, the general consensus is that the regular flu shot does not protect you against the bird flu. Even the WHO does not mention the flu shot when advising people who live in areas that have bird flu.

Intrigued, I called the number to get some answers. Surprise, surprise, the phone number belongs to a pharmaceutical company (which I won’t repeat, you have to call them yourselves to find out). They were happy to sell me the regular flu vaccine. Granted, they were honest enough to immediately distance themselves from the WHO. Still, they didn’t mind suggesting that getting a flu shot wouldn’t hurt.

Such a statement would be true for specific groups in society that are more vulnerable, like the elderly, people who could transmit the disease (like nurses) or people who could be affected severely by a regular flu. If you are in good health, there is normally no reason to take the flu shot.

To be fair, though, scientific consensus seems to move towards the idea that the benefits of the flu shot outweigh the downsides and thus we should all get the shot. Still, would that warrant a marketing campaign based on referring to the bird flu?


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure who sent you he message but the worry about bird flu is that it will change to become transferrable from human to human. The "regular" flu is already transferable from human to human, therefore if you have "regular" flu and then get bird flu, there is a danger that the bird flu virus will acquire the genetic info about human-to-human transfer from the regular flu virus.
Hence it is thought that if you get a flu shot ,this may decrease the risk of the "regular" and "bird" versions meeting and transferring information.
So the SMS may have a point, but I'm not really sure of the true recommendations, you can go to the US CDC site and usually find info there re recommendations.