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Swine Flu (H1N1) Outbreak: Recombination and Media Responsibility

Students in my class take part in this discussion here.

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As we follow the story of the swine flu Influenza A(H1N1) outbreak on the news and the internet, we start to become overwhelmed with information. In all cases related to health, it is vital that we practice critical thinking and take the time to evaluate our sources of information. The more controversial or the higher the impact of a story, the more likely it is for people to be discussing and disseminating (spreading) misinformation. Misinformation can be due to simple misunderstanding, poor communication of facts or delusion and the intention of misleading others.

In this task, we will look at some of the resources related to the swine flu Influena A(H1N1)outbreak and evaluate their usefulness and reliability. We will see how this outbreak relates to syllabus areas of IB Biology and in particular look at the genetic aspect of the evolution of the pathogen.

Here we go – read and watch these resources and try to pick out information that will help you answer the questions below.

Short news clip with Dr. Joe Bresee from the Centre for Disease Control:

What do I need to know about Swine Flu? from NewScientist

Interactive world map of cases and a Swine Flu Timeline from the Guardian

What are the phases of the WHO’s pandemic alert?

The progress of the story (oldest to newest):

Guardian News, 25th April: “Swine flu epidemic kills 16 in Mexico city

Guardian News, 25th April: “Swine flu symptoms similar to human flu

PrisonPlanet, 26th April: “Swine flu a beta-test for a bioweapon, 27th April: “Is swine flu a bioterrorist virus?, 27th April: “Swine flu spreads the globe, genes could contribute to rapid spread, 29th April: “Swine flu from pigs only, not humans or birds

Guardian News, 29th April: “Governments must prepare for a pandemic

Guardian News, 29th April: “Global race to produce swine flu vaccine

BadScience, 29 April: “Swine flu and hype – a media illness (a risk is still a risk)

BBC News, 30 April: “WHO raises pandemic alert level

NewScientist, 2 May: “First genetic analysis of H1N1 shows potecy – and potential weakness

BadScience, 2 May: “How effective is Tamiflu, really, at stopping the aporkalypse?

Discussion questions:

1. Reading the articles from Wired, NewScientist and Nature, can you explain briefly how the new form of swine flu has spread to humans?How does this relate to our Biology syllabus?

2. Which of the sources used above do you consider most reliable? Where should we turn for the most reliable and up-to-date information on health issues?  Why?

3. What do you feel is the ethical (most responsible) way to report global diseases in the media? Why?

4. How could irresponsible journalism make the impacts of an outbreak or pandemic more serious? How would you balance the public demand for information with the possibility that giving out too much information might lead to harm?

Your task:

Take part in at least two of the discussion questions. Make use of the sources provided and show evidence of reading around the subject. Address the guiding questions and build on them with your own ideas, supported by research from reliable sources.Make a minimum of three posts in each of two discussions. Pay attention to netiquette.

Here are some quick reminders of the Biology in action:

Crossing over (recombination) animation

The influenza pandemic of 1918 – what might happen now?

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