Epidemics and fear

We must acknowledge the two dimensions of epidemics: the bio-demographic burden and the psychological impact; and in reality, the psychological dimension is often disproportionate to the bio-demographic burden.

The resulting pressure does not allow for putting the expected burden of the epidemic in perspective with other health problems – and the expected additional burden is then overestimated.

Limiting excess morbidity and mortality while reducing fear are the true objectives of epidemic decision making.

Recent history abounds with examples of irrational response to epidemic threats: eg. overreaction to the swine-flu nonepidemic, and the underestimation of AIDS.

Dealing with time pressure and fear (among professionals as well as the public) is an essential aspect of epidemic control. Failure to do so is what renders epidemic decision making irrational and inefficient.

Facing our fears is as important as knowing biology.


Tropical Medicine and International Health: “Epidemics and Fear”
— Read on onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1046/j.1365-3156.2000.00599.x