Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

1147th General Monthly Meeting

"Pandemics, bird flu and the globalisation of fear"

Professor Peter Curson, Macquarie University

Wednesday 4 October 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Currently, the world is experiencing two defining events - a panzootic or global outbreak of bird flu, and a pandemic of human reaction and panic. H5N1 is spreading from country to country largely following the fly-paths of migratory birds. No-one really expected the virus to race around the world so quickly. After remaining entrenched among wildlife in parts of Asia, suddenly the virus has moved further afield. No-one really knows why, and there is still much we not understand about the infection. Like the SARS experience, however, the animal infection is at danger in being swamped by the outpouring of human reaction, panic and hysteria. The world press is having a field day, the word pandemic is on everyone's lips, and governments and individuals have been stockpiling antivirals. Pandemic planning has become an industry, and wherever you look, there are dire predictions of millions of deaths and widespread social and economic disruption. The line between responsible precautionary behaviour and alarmist fear mongering has become increasingly blurred. There are two fundamental issues involved. One is the threat to animal life and the related implications for those whose livelihood depends on such animals; the other is the potential threat to humans. They are not the same thing and need to be separated. This talk considers human reaction and behaviour when confronted by pandemic crises.


Peter Curson is Professorial Fellow in Medical Geography and Director of the Health Studies Program at Macquarie University. A former Head of the School of Earth Sciences and Dean of the Division of Environmental & Life Sciences, he is a medical geographer interested in infectious disease and human behaviour, climate change and human health, infectious disease and national security. He has written seven books and many papers on historical epidemics of infectious disease, environment, population health interactions, climate change and infectious disease and international security. Among other things he writes extensively for the Australian and New Zealand national media and is currently working on a book on infectious disease in 20th century Australia.

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