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Have We Missed the Boat?

Duke University professor Priscilla Wald is the author of the book, "Contagious." In a piece she has published in the Globe and Mail in Canada, she argues that the swine flu outbreak has been grossly blown out of proportion by the media for the simple reason that "panic sells."

Wald argues that we should be focused on fighting global poverty instead of worrying about swine flu: "In telling the outbreak story, the media present the pandemic as solely a medical problem. But it's a social problem as well. Poverty and inadequate health care are the most effective vectors for the spread of disease. Malnourished people are more likely to get sick; overcrowded living quarters are a microbe's haven."

Wald is not the first to argue that the focus on swine flu is an example of our misplaced priorities, and that we tend to focus on threats that are new and exotic rather than the greatest dangers. I explored the psychological factors that drive this phenomenon several days ago.

By Shankar Vedantam  |  May 1, 2009; 10:28 AM ET
Categories:  Opinions  
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