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Bird Flu: Fact or Fiction

Hollywood has brought out its version of bird flu, a blur of fact and fiction which scientists say could confuse the public//.

"Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America," an ABC made-for-television movie, airs May 9, just as scientists are to begin testing of wild birds in Alaska that could herald the arrival of bird flu in North America. Scientists fear the bird flu virus could evolve so it could be passed from human to human, sparking a global pandemic.

The two-hour movie brings out this notion to the fullest, with running tickers that tally tens of millions of victims worldwide. In one scene, the bodies are thrown on a pyre, like the carcasses of cows torched in the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain.

According to Diana Kerew, one of the movie's executive producer ‘We call this a plausible, worst-case scenario. This could actually happen. It may not be this bad but it could be this bad.’ The need of the hour was to be prepared.

Bird flu expert Michael Osterholm praised the realistif portrayal of the shortage of goods and services, and some of the ensuing panic, that could occur in a pandemic. However he feels that the blurring of information and entertainment could do the public a disservice and hopes to arrange a conference call with television critics before the movie airs to set the record straight. He singled out for criticism how the movie shows Virginia officials using barbed wire to fence off and quarantine entire neighborhoods.

Dr. Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program office, praised the movie's timeliness in raising public awareness of bird flu, as well as its portrayal of several potentially realistic scenarios such as the limited availability of antiviral medicines in a pandemic, the months it could take to develop an effective vaccine and in turn how the United States could be dependent on other countries like France to provide vaccine. The movie's stressing of the import
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