MSNBC article on some people saying bird flu fears exaggerated includes:

Wendy Orent, an anthropologist and author of “Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World’s Most Dangerous Disease.”… said public health officials have vastly exaggerated the potential danger of bird flu.

Several factors make it unlikely that bird flu will become a dangerous pandemic, Orent said: the virus, H5N1, is still several mutations away from being able to spread easily between people; and the virus generally attaches to the deepest part of the lungs, making it harder to transmit by coughing or breathing.

“We don’t have anything that makes us think this bug will go pandemic,” Orent said.

Flu virologist Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, a microbiology professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, agrees that all the focus on H5N1 may be unhealthy. As part of the team of scientists who recreated the deadly 1918 flu strain, he’s glad people are paying more attention to flu but thinks the level of worry is a bit too high. If this avian flu doesn’t turn into a pandemic, he wonders, will all these new flu-fighting measures be tossed aside?

“Focusing only on H5N1 … I think is a little bit shortsighted,” Garcia-Sastre said.
Public health officials always have to walk a fine line when sounding the alarm, said risk communications expert Peter Sandman, of Princeton, N.J., a consultant to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Defense. Bird flu is a tough case because it’s both scary and unlikely. People see-saw between overreacting because the potential threat is horrific, and under-reacting because the threat is also unlikely.

“When you look at a risk that’s horrific but not likely, it’s hard to know how to think about it,” Sandman said.

Sandman said public health officials need to do a better job of communicating the uncertainty around bird flu — as Fauci seemed to be attempting this week.

“It’s unfair and dishonest to make it sound like we’re sure H5N1 is coming soon and it’s going to kill half the population,” Sandman said. “It’s equally irresponsible to say, because only a hundred people have died, it’s not a biggie. It’s potentially very scary, but potentially is only potentially.”

Mixed messages
Vocabulary is part of the problem, Sandman said. The term “bird flu” is used for the virus that is now killing birds — and has infected nearly 200 people who came into very close contact with birds. And it’s also being used to describe a mutated virus — which hasn’t yet emerged — that would spread easily among humans.

Sandman stressed that the current “bird flu” that kills birds is not the same as the potential “bird flu” that could cause a deadly pandemic.

“Chicken isn’t a problem,” he explained. “The big problem is the risk of mutation, at which point I’m at risk from the subway seat you sat on, or the doorknob you pulled open. After the mutation happens we should both be more afraid of doorknobs than chicken. Before the mutation, we shouldn’t be afraid of doorknobs or chickens.”

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– on MSNBC, where another article included Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, Md. saying:

You can’t put a quantitative number on what the chance is that this H5N1 is going to be a catastrophe. The complexity of things for this to happen is multifaceted and very complex. [A pandemic] is not necessarily going to be caused by the H5N1 virus. H5N1 may not, in fact, go anywhere and just dead-end itself.

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Top scientists help clear up the confusion

And yes, this is the same Anthony Fauci who last September was quoted in article Government Official Says Bird Flu Spread “A Time Bomb Waiting to Go Off”