Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Who's Fiddling with WHOs Numbers ?!

An interesting day today. Even some of the largest media organizations seem to be following the Twitter model of pandemic reporting.

Around lunchtime I found that Radio Netherlands, the Dutch state broadcaster, was reporting that the WHO had raised he pandemic alert level from four to five 5 AND agreed to call the virus by a new name. Now, more than four hours after I first saw the story, it is still on their site:

WHOs call new strain of H1N1 "Mexican flu"
Published: Wednesday 29 April 2009 17:32 UTC
Last updated: Wednesday 29 April 2009 18:04 UTC

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the most recent research on swine flu has shown that the virus is not caused by pigs. The disease is now being referred to as Mexican flu or "2009 H1N1 flu". The WHO has moved the pandemic alert from four to five, the second highest. The first case of what was called swine flu was reported in Mexico and its first fatality was confirmed there two weeks ago.

Only problem ? It's isn't true. I monitor the WHO outbreak website as part of my job and thought it odd that that the change in level hadn't made it to the WHO's yet, not to mention that they still refer to the virus as "swine influenza".

The only other reference to raising the threat level that I could find was from Chinese news agency Xinhua, (the story no longer appears on their site).

Move ahead a few hours and around 3:25 pm local time Reuters ran a brief breaking news story:

GENEVA (Reuters) - World Health Organization director-general Dr. Margaret Chan raised the pandemic threat awareness level to 5 out of 6 on Wednesday, meaning the world is at imminent risk of a pandemic from H1N1 swine flu. "I have decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5," Chan told a news briefing.

Which disappeared a couple of minutes later and was replaced with:

GENEVA (Reuters) - The head of the World Health Organization will increase the pandemic flu alert level to 5, the second highest level, WHO sources said Wednesday. Director-General Margaret Chan is expected to make the announcement at a 10 p.m. (2000 GMT) press briefing about the swine flu outbreak at the WHO's Geneva headquarters.

That struck me as truly odd. Reuters has been reporting first-hand from the WHO offices in Geneva since the outbreak started and to flub a story of that magnitude including a quote ?! Tip: When the Chinese lady-doctor says something, run with it. If the guy with an aluminum foil hat outside the building says something, check it out.

After all, you're not Twittering.

UPDATE: To take some of the wind out of my sails it is NOW official, right from the the WHO site itself, that the threat level has been raised to Level 5.

Current level of influenza pandemic alert raised from phase 4 to 5
Statement by WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan
29 April 2009

Oh, and day 6 and the WRHA pandemic flu plan page is even in worse shape than it was over the weekend.

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