What To Do About Bird Flu

While stories about political misdeeds in Washington and volatility in France and the Middle East compete for headlines in U.S. newspapers, Chinese-language newspapers have had one singular focus: avian flu.

On Nov. 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed 124 cases of the H5N1 avian flu virus, including 63 deaths. No human or bird infections have been reported in the United States.

Chinese-language readers have been riveted on avian flu developments, not just for the past several weeks but months. Yuru Chen, editor-in-chief of the Chinese-language Taiwan-based World Journal in Millbrae, Calif., estimates that the newspaper has been covering the avian flu for about the past two years. The newspaper is published in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

"Chinese are very concerned about news from their home countries. We have covered the bird flu since it first broke out in Asia," he said.

In addition to reporting on outbreaks in China, including how many birds were infected and destroyed, the newspaper also fills its pages with preparation measures in the United States. President Bush announced last week that the United States will spend $1.2 billion for an avian flu vaccine. In the meantime, the Chinese-language press has been giving advice and tips on what readers can do to help prevent and treat an infection.

The remedies range from clinical to homespun. This type of service journalism was common during the SARS crisis when Chinese papers discussed the pros and cons of such things as boiling vinegar to disinfect a household from germs. Chinese-language media as well as other ethnic media frequently bridge the two worlds of news and service for their communities.

Here is an example of six tips to treat the avian flu, according to the Chinese media:


  • Don't travel abroad if you are sick. More international and U.S. airports are monitoring arrivals for symptoms of the bird flu. You may be delayed or quarantined if you are a suspected carrier.


  • For those who travel to countries with avian flu outbreaks such as Vietnam, Indonesia or Thailand, see a doctor immediately if flu symptoms persist for more than 10 days upon their return.


  • Readers have been scrambling to buy Chinese medicines and herbs. In an Oct. 28 report in the Sing Tao Daily, Chinese herbalist Lee Guo-Ron recommended star anise and fennel seed oil to boost the immune system. Star anise has antibiotic properties and can be used as an antiseptic, Lee said.


  • Chinatowns across the country are densely populated and have a high population of elderly. As a result, an outbreak in one of these communities can be especially deadly. Chinese-language media has reported on local hotlines in different Chinese dialects to report cases in Chinatowns. The information is then relayed to state and federal health officials.


  • Stay away from live poultry markets or the slaughter of live chickens.


  • Wear gloves or wash your hands immediately after killing a live chicken.


During the SARS crisis, Chinese-language media published three times as many stories as mainstream media on the advance of the disease. As a result, Chinese media reporters were well trained in covering a pandemic. "We learned the lessons from SARS a few years ago," says World Journal senior reporter Portia Li. "We know what kinds of stories to do and who to call. This includes everyone from editors to beat reporters."

Joseph Leung, deputy chief editor for the Sing Tao Daily in South San Francisco, said his coverage of recent Washington politics such as the Libby indictment and the Supreme Court nomination has been minimal because his readers are not clamoring for details about these stories. "My readers want to know what they can do to prevent avian flu. Is a vaccine going to be available, and how do we get it? That's their foremost concern," he said. Based in Hong Kong, the Sing Tao Daily has 10 offices in the United States.

Chen agrees. "Overall, the Chinese community still trusts the U.S. government to be effective and efficient. They want to know the government's plan to address this health risk more than they want to know about the inner workings of the government."
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