Monday, February 20, 2006

What, them worry?

I don't get what's up with WHO. Today the Wall Street Journal reported an interview with WHO's Indonesian spokesperson that recent concerns expressed by Indonesian health officials are no big deal. The Indonesians have pointed to the increasing number of clusters and believe the speed with which the virus is killing patients is becoming faster. WHO disputes the latter, saying the average length of illness was 8 days in 2005 and 10 days in 2006. Presumably this refers to Indonesian only cases, although the news report did not specify and suspicion of WHO news spinning is now so high many will believe they have manipulated this figure by including cases outside Indonesia as well.

Which is the point, I guess. WHO's current position is that the clusters may just represent common exposures to poultry and the rising number of cases is just observation bias, that is, greater awareness on the part of the health care system and doctors. Yes, these are reasonable explanations. But there are others as well, so why push the most conservative when in fact WHO doesn't really know the explanation? Better just to keep their mouths shut.
"Should we be more worried? Not at this stage," Sari P. Setiogi, a spokeswoman for the WHO in Jakarta, said in an interview, adding that as health-care workers in the field become more aware of the disease, the number of reported cases may rise. (Wall Street Journal)
So we can answer the question, "when is it time to be more worried?" this way. When WHO says it's time to get more worried, it's really time to be terrified.