Ron Barrett and the Contagion of Swine Flu

Ron Barrett, a medical anthropologist joining Macalester College, recently gave this interview Fears over Flu Can Be Contagious on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Ron discussed how his research on a breakout of plague in the northern Indian city of Surat provides insight into today’s reactions to swine flu. His basic point is that with infectious diseases, rumors and fears highlight existing tensions in a community, so stigma and panic can come to play a greater role in people’s reactions than the actual impact of the disease. Case in point – 78% of the medical professionals fled Surat, much more than the estimated third of the population that left.

Ron advocates the importance of transparency and providing reliable information. Otherwise, rumors can become more infectious than the disease itself. Twitter, for example, drove wild speculation about swine flu. So for reliable info, think Obama and his clear recommendations about what to do (wash your hands, cover your mouth when coughing), and not Joe Biden broadcasting fear on The Today Show.

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