Many flu experts are surprised to learn that the World Health Organization will be examining its handling of the H1N1 pandemic. It is hard for me to believe that they will learn to be more measured in their comments when a new contagion is emerging.
Is the same WHO who wildly proclaimed that more than a third of the world was going to be infected with H1N1 now going to reconsider their inflammatory scary language? I don't think so.
Part of the problem with overstating a risk is that it may provoke governments and the public to an initial state of alert which is soon replaced by complacency when nothing happens.
Plus, several countries are now cutting back on orders for H1N1 vaccines as it is become clearer that it won't be as severe as the WHO feared.
The WHO declared H1N1 a pandemic back in June, at a time when the outbreak was still early. This sent a wave of fear around the world even though an examination of the virus itself showed that it lacked some of the lethal proteins that characterized previous - more severe - pandemics, including 1918.
But this pandemic, though mild by comparison to previous pandemics, has still been particularly problematic for the young, killing more than a thousand children in the U.S. alone.
It is a complex message, and the WHO has struggled to put this pandemic in perspective, and has not done a good job at communication, instead focusing too much on worst case scenarios. Also lacking was early production of vaccines, or transition to the latest techniques in vaccine production.
These are lessons to be learned for the future, and if the WHO is actually going to be self-critical, there is much that can be improved.
Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News medical contributor and writes a health column for the LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel is the author of a new ebook: Swine Flu; the New Pandemic. Dr. Siegel is also the author of "False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear"and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic."Read more at www.doctorsiegel.com
Marc Siegel MD is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is a medical analyst and reporter for Fox News since 2008. His upcoming book concerns a mysterious viral outbreak.