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Swine Flu for Grownups

No one knows how the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic will evolve - whether it will continue or fizzle, and whether the virus will remain mild or mutate into something more severe. But what is certain is that health officials risk mishandling how they explain this new and potentially alarming threat to the public.

PRINCETON – No one knows how the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic will evolve. Will it keep spreading, or will it fizzle? Will it retreat during the northern hemisphere’s summer and return in the fall? Will it stay mild or turn more severe? Flu experts just don’t know.

What is certain is that health officials risk mishandling how they explain this new and potentially alarming threat to the public. Although they know a lot about virology and public health, they often know next to nothing about how to talk (and listen!) to people about risks.

So here’s a primer on the swine flu pandemic risk communication, framed in terms of what health officials shouldn’t do when they’re telling you about this new disease.

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