Bird Flu: Real and Imagined

One of the many advantages of having an active website for a global news division is that it allows us to create special web indexes where we can archive and collect reporting on specific topics or themes. One of the most important indexes we have built on this site is our section of the emergence of avian flu, specifically the H5N1 strain that has stricken some 207 people worldwide, resulting in 115 known deaths according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

We launched our Bird Flu: Fears, Fact & Fiction page on March 3, 2006 and we add new stories, maps, and updates most every day. A few weeks ago, we began hearing about ABC Entertainment's plan to broadcast "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America," a made-for-TV movie depicting a massive avian flu outbreak in the United States. Over the course of the past week, we began to see promotional trailers for the ABC movie, which featured what appeared to be a "worst case" outbreak scenario. The promos reminded some of us of movies like Michael Crichton's "The Andromeda Strain," a 1971 science fiction classic about a lethal virus epidemic, and 1995's "Outbreak," directed by Wolfgang Petersen.

After watching the movie promos, a discussion developed among writers, producers and editors focusing on how we can best share the depth of our website's avian flu coverage with an online audience which may flock to our website after viewing the ABC-TV movie on May 9.

Our ongoing news broadcast and web coverage of the H5N1 virus has been cautious, measured and responsible. Our coverage provides our readers a dependable and up-to-date resource on global developments relating to the spread of avian flu, gathered from diverse scientific, governmental and medical resources.

None of us in the newsroom have had a chance to view the "Fatal Contact" movie in advance of its May 9 debut. We do hope, however, that those visitors who do come to our Avian Flu page following the movie's broadcast on Tuesday will find a comprehensive and useful resource on a developing and unpredictable story.