Swine Flu in China and the U.S.: Different Reactions

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A slightly bizarre story here out of the United States about differing reactions to the news that China’s first swine flu victim is a graduate student at the University of Missouri. Here in Beijing, the health authorities have indeed gone into overdrive. I have received three sets of text messages asking anyone who was on board the flights that carried the flu victim to report in immediately. Chinese TV stations meanwhile carried a constantly repeating ticker conveying the same message, but only in English. Everyone who has come into contact with the thirty year old–amounting to several hundred people– has been put in quarantine. The country’s two top leaders have called for firm action to prevent the spread of the flu and news broadcasts have been dominated by that message and accompanying instructions.

Meanwhile in Missouri, according to the AP story:

The University of Missouri, however, is not advising campus members to take any additional precautions other than basic hygiene, spokesman Christian Basi said. Columbia/Boone County health department spokeswoman Geni Alexander said that anyone who came into contact with the student should not panic.

“They’re treating it like the seasonal flu,” she said. “There’s no longer really any need for intense investigation.”

It’s hardly surprising given the experience of SARs that China might overreact a bit. But the reaction in Missouri –“seasonal flu” for god’s sake?–seems way to far in the other direction. It’s way too early to dismiss it as that.

(The AP apparently decided to give a lesson in Chinese pronunciation– “Xueyang Bao (SHWAY-yong bou)” –that managed to not only get his family name wrong but comprehensively mangle the pronunciation of all three words. That’ll teach us to make jokes about Chinglish signs in China.

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