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« Thread started on: Feb 25th, 2006, 3:45pm »

Site Offers Alternative to Flu Information

Feb 25, 1:39 PM (ET)


NEW YORK (AP) - You can learn a lot about bird flu and the specter of a global human flu epidemic by checking official information from the government or medical groups. But thousands of times a day, people turn to a much different source.

It's Flu Wiki, a Web site maintained by a 52-year-old a writer who specializes in risk communication. It draws in part on contributions from people who don't reveal their names, much like Wikipedia, an encyclopedic Web site that lets anyone contribute.

Why should anybody trust a source like this?

"I'm working with some of the best scientists in the country on the subject of pandemic influenza," said Melanie Mattson, who maintains the site. "If I have a question about what's going on I ask them."

And Flu Wiki, the Virginia resident said, is "probably the most complete authority in English on pandemic influenza on the Internet."

Even for a site with more than 1,200 pages of content, that's a bold claim. The field includes not only an official U.S. government site, , but also others from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. There are also plenty of bloggers who focus on flu.

But Flu Wiki also offers the wisdom of its expert contributors, Mattson said.

She can't identify them publicly, mostly because they fear losing federal money for giving opinions that clash with the Bush administration, she said. The disagreements aren't so much on the basic science of bird flu, but rather on what to do about it.

Flu Wiki, which averages up to 5,000 hits a day, impressed some flu experts who examined it recently at the request of The Associated Press.

Dr. Arnold S. Monto of the University of Michigan said he found the site's information reliable in general. Such sites can provide "a single place for people to go who want to get information which they may have to troll for in some of the official sites," he said.

Peter Cowen of North Carolina State University, moderator of a disease-monitoring Web site sponsored by the International Society for Infectious Diseases, said he had mixed feelings about Flu Wiki.

"In general they have a lot of good information," but some of the site's links lead to places with information of questionable value, Cowen said. Still, on balance, he said, "it looks pretty good."

The site, launched last June, offers key facts about bird flu, updated news stories, a roundup of official flu plans, tips on preparedness and a discussion forum. Volunteers have translated critical information into French, Spanish and Turkish. Norwegian may be next.

Mattson said she and her collaborators established it because too little attention was being paid to the possibility of a worldwide flu outbreak, and the public was in danger because they weren't getting basic information. The goal is to help individuals and local communities prepare for a possible pandemic, she said.

But at the moment, she doesn't see much local planning going on. "I'm not sure my town council is even aware of pandemic influenza," she said.

Her own home is stocked with a two-week supply of food and water, originally for hurricanes. She plans to expand that inventory for a possible flu pandemic. Her goal? "Eight weeks is good, 12 weeks is better," she said.

Mattson said she became concerned about the possibility of a pandemic flu after a bird flu virus jumped to people in Hong Kong in 1997, causing six deaths. A lifelong student of epidemiology and public health, she'd hoped to be an epidemiologist until she ran into organic chemistry in college. And she caught the flu and then pneumonia in the two previous flu pandemics in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Needless to say, I'm a little more sensitive to the subject of influenza than probably most people are," she said.


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