There is a fascinating article in the current issue of the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal on the role of rumor-tracking in understanding an infectious disease’s virulence. It turns out that rumors were a useful, if low SNR, source of early information, but tracking and responsding to those rumors was crucial in managing the ongoing H5N1 outbreak.
We describe the enhanced rumor surveillance during the avian influenza H5N1 outbreak in 2004. The World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Regional Office identified 40 rumors; 9 were verified to be true. Rumor surveillance informed immediate public health action and prevented unnecessary and costly responses.
All of this, of course, should sound familar to most organizations and individuals. Rumors are not limited to disease outbreaks; they also arise online all the time, whether through blogs or any other form of public media. If you are unaware of the rumor — that is, if you are not actively scanning for dangerous, incorrect, or new information — then you are leaving yourself unnecessarily open to subsequent costs.