The recent growth in momentum for action against avian influenza has been flanked by a rise in anxiety about the pandemic risk. These fears are perpetuated by politicians' misplaced instincts to withhold information instead of talking openly about the disease. Intensified anxiety at the start of a pandemic could mean that people avoid travel, fear going to hospitals, or start riots in the streets. Patients will be stigmatised, and confidence in governments will be damaged or lost. But just as there is time to complete preparedness plans, there is still time to stem public anxiety, states the editorial.
The Lancet comments: "It is true that public assurances are difficult to muster when uncertainties abound and available scientific information is incomplete. But if governments are to avert widespread panic they must admit to uncertainty, act transparently, issue guidance on disease protection, and make sure new information is disseminated to the public as quickly as possible. These actions can be thought of as preparedness measures in themselves: people who trust their leaders will be more likely to adhere to health advice when a pandemic emerges."
The Lancet press office