Can a fear of pandemic make a pandemic more likely?

I heard someone say this once but I can’t think of very many reasons why except for perhaps people leaving their homes more to go to the doctor and to stockpile food.

I recall something about how behavior is often irrational. The example used was the “corrupt blood” pandemic in World of Warcraft. The rational behavior was to protect your avatar by staying offline for a while (quarantining yourself) but people in some cases instead went online and went to where the disease was known out of curiosity. There was some published scientific study about it even I think. (If I have the chance later I’ll search for it)

In the real world, yes, as people try to flee an area that has a disease they can be more likely to spread it. And crowded doctors waiting rooms and ERs, mostly filled with people who do not yet have the disease, are opportunities for the uninfecteds to come into contact with infecteds.

I haven’t heard about this, but some thinks come to mind:

in either a fictional movie (Dead Zone?) or a real occurrence several years ago, there was a possibility of a virus-based disease spreading, so everybody rushed to get immunized, which so swamped the manufacturers that a real pandemic would have hit very hard - there was no serum left to treat really infected people, because the healthy people had used it up it for prevention; and the production of the serum needed several weeks which couldn’t be hurried

  • If a bunch of people decide to flee a “doomed city” at once, you get a terrible traffic jam and and - because of the delay between being infected and thus a carrier, and showing symptoms - spreading of the disease by unknownly infected people going in all directions.

Actually, that’s a big problem that’s not adressed often enough: we don’t train our populations well enough to listen to experts in cases like this (plus the mistrust of authority that many citizens have because of past wrong decisions), so too many people will act on instinct and thus increase the problem. If the CDC or the WHO went on TV and told everybody to stop travelling by air, or go beyond a circle of 20 miles around their town, how many would comply? How many would obey if men in rubber suits showed up to cordon off an airport and detain everybody there for 10 days (to be sure who’s infected and not)?
Especially if there’s not enough treatment, personell, equipment, simple desinfection material available because of buget cuts in the last years.

Doesn’t stress weaken your immune system?

OP, you might’ve heard it from the Daily Show a couple of nights back. Jon had a guest on who’s written a book about this very thing. I’m afraid I only saw a bit of it at the end, so I can’t be more specific about the title and such.

Well we did have something similar to this happening with one of the last big scares - healthy or at least low risk patients begging their docs for Tamilflu to have “just in case” … and spineless docs who gave out the scripts - the result being that if there had really been an epidemic there would not have been the meds needed for the high risk patients who really needed it.

Color me skeptical. The factors that bring about a pandemic are systemic and biological. I doubt acting slightly differently is going to stop you from getting it if you live in a mexico city slum apartment with eight other people and poor sanitation. Preventing the outbreak requires cleaning up the slums and getting better healthcare, not to mention fighting overpopulation, stress, exposure to undercooked meats, etc. Its not a simple thing.

As far as hoarding goes, remember when the US was short on vaccines a couple of years ago? Yeah, I couldnt get one but my elderly father could. For every spineless doctor theres a dozen good doctors.

You seem to have a fair number of false "either/or"s set up in your head. The sum of individual actions creates those systemic factors. “Good docs” can also have soft hearts and feel more motivated by looking out for their individual patient then by a more abstract greater good or guideline.

Undercooked meats are not an issue for pandemic flu. Human behavior OTOH is. The op asked if panic can make things worse - and the answer is yes it can, as panic makes the job of the health agencies more difficult as panic, by definition, makes individuals make less rational choices. Irrational choices are harder to model and harder to control from a policy perspective.

Sounds like reporters, “Hello world, I’m so-and-so reporting from the scene where Swine Flu is said to have infected such and such kids…”


At least that’s similar to what I’ve already witnessed from the New York cases. I’m sorry, but if you’re a reporter reporting on a possible pandemic (at the scene of discovery or origination), you either got some serious cojones, or you’re an idiot. I’m not ruling out both.

There’s also a fear component - some people could hide flu symptoms because they’re afraid of quarantine - “Oh ma gawd, if they know I got the sniffles they’ll send me to the camps!”

Im skeptical because this is all a lot of conjecture and isnt too convincing. Are there any studies about this claim? I would think a pandemic warning would be beneficial or have no effect, not a negative effect.

Frankly, this sounds like conspiratorial thinking and feeds the myth that the government is always incompetent.

<hijack>I thought the situation was that some/a lot of people went to spread the disease intentionally, to see how far it’d run, and went to lengths to see what situations they could get themselves into in order to infect a lot of people. The problem with comparing that to real life is that, of course, in real life you don’t respawn at the graveyard and either run to your corpse to resurrect or do it on the spot with an angel.

I did that myself occasionally last fall when the new Wrath of the Lich King expansion was coming out - big cities were the major infection centers, but if I got infected I’d hop on a flyer and get to an outpost to spread it around best I could. (And when a guard would kill me for being a zombie plague-spreader, I could pop up good as new again and all healthy to boot.)</hijack>

Well, when Exotic Newcastle Disease broke out in California in 2002, public officials panicked in a way that certainly would have spread the disease if their fears had been correct.

END is nonfatal to birds, does not transmit to humans, and poses no threat to the food supply. But it is likely to reduce the profits of poultry producers by reducing the average weights of birds, and so a full-scale panic broke out, including the governor declaring a state of emergency.

Animal control began visiting poultry farms, but also “backyard breeders” – and soon began visiting people who owned pet parrots. Parrots they considered family members.

Despite the total lack of evidence that indoor-kept pet parrots had END or were involved in transmission, AC began seizing pet birds “for testing,” according to internet message boards.

You see, the AC people took the pets “for testing” and was supposed to only report if END was found. However, overworked and panicky AC officers began putting to death these pet parrots – whether or not END was found. It became a “come to your door and kill your family members” panic.

Immediately, the online bird community began making arrangements to clandestinely spirit birds out of California to keep them from being killed by the state. Birds were quickly dispersed across the western US.

Had there actually been END in pet birds, this would have been a health disaster, ensuring the pandemic spread of the disease. But since, as it turns out, there was not incidence of END in pet birds, which the pet bird community well understood, it was just a lifesaving operation.

Before you weigh in against this defiance of the state’s will, stop and consider that this was done in the same way and for the same reason Raoul Wallenberg defied a government in his own day.

So you can see that panic over a disease (a nonfatal one that cannot affect humans, no less!) certainly can spread a disease swiftly and in ways public health officials – especially stupid ones – cannot predict.

Okay, I don’t want to offend anybody, but don’t you think some people might be a little insulted that you just compared Raoul Wallenberg, who almost certainly died saving Jews from the Holocaust, to people smuggling parrots out of California? Not that I want pet parrots to die for no reason, but…

Here is an interesting analysis that deals with iatrogenesis, meaning that the treatment causes the problem.

In this case, the “treatment” is speading the word about the threat of a pandemic.

I was about to make this very point. Wallenburg was one of the greatest men of the 20th century.

PARROTS for fuck’s sake.

Get some perspective.

That said, I have no problem with people defying the state, but that’s for another thread :slight_smile:

I’m just not as impressed if they didn’t, you know, walk up to a death camp train with Nazis shooting at them and hand out dozens of passports in cars that weren’t yet closed, and then walk those passport-holders and their enormous pair of brass balls out of there to safety. If they did that, then I’ll light a candle to the great parrot resistance fighters.

I love you for having a brain :slight_smile:

As I mentioned in another thread, I found the book and author I was referring to earlier: Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu by Philip Alcabes.

I’m sure some of you are mock-offended if it makes your point…but only if it makes a cheap point on a message board.

In the meantime, it was only Jews, for fuck’s sake, not “our” people.

See, it’s easy to dismiss someone else’s loved ones as less than important! That’s the exact – exact! – way societies define outgroups they can persecute or ignore in good conscience.

In the meantime, my point still stands – these people risked whatever consequences the state wanted to bring down on them – while it was panicking and showing poor judgment – to save strangers’ family members.

You know, we’ve had threads about threats to pets before without Wallenberg analogies and been attacked as unimportant then too – in general, posters seem to like to dismiss the issue. Yet again and again the government seems surprised that people will treat pets as loved ones – look at Katrina, for example. I am just trying to show something universal about human behavior – go ahead and be dismissive and contemptuous if it makes you uncomfortable.