Monday 10 October 2005


On September 25, an outbreak of respiratory illness began in a nursing home in Toronto, Canada. When neither the source nor the etiology of the outbreak could initially be identified by public health officials, media and public attention quickly grew on the developing outbreak. News agencies in the US and worldwide began to compare the virulent outbreak to that of SARS in 2003, despite no medical evidence existed to suggest the pathogen was that causing SARS. As the death toll from this outbreak rose, public fear was further heightened by the suggestion that a new or mutated virus might be the cause. A disconnect began to grow between the “real” truth and the “perceived” truth of the outbreak.

When the cause was finally identified to be due to Legionnaires’ disease, a known and not uncommon respiratory illness, the gap between these two versions of truth had grown so large that many of the public could no longer tell apart the factual and frictional elements of the outbreak. Proper delivery of public health must involve more than the prevention and treatment of diseases, but the education of the public (and the media) so that unjustified speculation and fear will not run rampant as they had during this public health crisis.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Health • Under World
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