Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 15:27 UK

Your stories: swine flu and the media

Negative image of the swine flu virus

BBC News website readers in European countries have been telling us about media coverage of the swine flu outbreak and government action in their country.


Paul Abrook is in Freiburg

German public health worker
A German public health official at Munich airport
At first it was odd because there was no news, the only news I got was from the BBC.

I mentioned swine flu to a few people I know and they were clueless. Now the press reaction here is quite sober with no hype.

Of course the newspapers are being typical and splashing extremely large pictures of frightened people which is just totally overblown. What is interesting is the name it has been given by many papers, namely "Amerika Virus."

With regards the government, the health minister says they will vaccinate people twice. I don't know what that means but I think they're doing a fine job.

A lot of people here just don't take it seriously, comparing it to SARS and all that. It could be a threat but I can understand people's attitudes.

They just don't want to think about it.

Marton Radkai is in Efringen-Kirchen

Prince Charles and Camilla in Germany
A visit by Charles and Camilla has knocked the virus off the front pages
The story came as a complete surprise to people here in Germany.

One suspects it even brought some relief to editors who have had to contend with months of dreary and arcane economic news.

In its online version, Bild, Germany's number-one tabloid, mentioned "mounting fear in the population" supported by pictures of people in masks, scientists in white coats and microscope images of unidentified germs.

However, the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, where the only two documented cases were found, quoted the Bavarian Health Minister Markus Söder who's said "don't panic and be vigilant."

In the East, the Leipziger Zeitung mentioned a boy with a suspicious illness: a runny nose and a cough. The story was soon relegated to second place behind Prince Charles and Camilla meeting Germany's President Köhler.

The Berliner Morgenpost precedes every bit of soft news with something drastic. Before mentioning Germany's three recovering heroes, it reports the death of a 23-month-old child in Texas.

Like most German media, the Morgenpost has an online photo series of previous epidemics. The editor is careful to cite the number of dead, including the much higher estimates.

Interesting, perhaps, is the last photo of a woman holding a pack of Tamiflu that hides her mouth like a mask.

This picture prominently displays the name of the pharmaceutical company who made the drug.

So if you didn't know where to invest the money you hadn't lost in the global financial meltdown, now you do.


Andy Wilkinson is in Dublin

I'm originally from Manchester but I've been living in Ireland for ten years. The general reaction of the Irish public has been one of stunned silence.

Picture of Andy Wilkinson
Andy Wilkinson says the reaction in Ireland has been "stunned silence"
The media coverage in Ireland tends to be quite sensationalist in situations like this so I think people have become almost desensitised to the hype and this could be the biggest mistake of all.

I think people will only really start to take notice when there is a confirmed case here or when people they know become affected.

The government in Ireland has been extremely quiet regarding the whole outbreak.

The health minister has come out to say that there are enough anti-viral drugs to treat 50% of the population, which based on comments from other countries, is pretty standard.

There hasn't been any advice from the authorities on whether we should use masks and which are the most effective.

I think more practical advice would be very welcome.


Frederick Furvey is in Paris.

Frederick Furvey in Paris
Frederick is confident about the French government's plans
In my opinion the TV and newspaper coverage here in France has been slightly overdone.

From the beginning the coverage quickly became a crescendo of panic. It has started to calm down now and there has been a lot of reassurance from the authorities.

So far we have only had a couple of suspected cases which have not turned out to be swine flu.

Well-known doctors and epidemiologists have appeared on TV to explain our emergency plans.

Hospitals have opened special care wards and have dedicated staff on hand and the government says it has batches and batches of appropriate drugs.

M Bachelot, the French health minister, has given countless interviews to the media to reassure the country.

There are the basic "dos and don'ts" and I think they're being taught in our primary schools. The name of the game seems to be to prevent any further spread of the disease.

I am confident with the French government's plans to contain the virus

If people in France do become infected then there is a plan of action. I am confident it will work and am happy with what the government has done so far.

In fact, I'm not really worried and it's not having a big effect on my day-to-day life. I do keep an eye on the news but no more than usual.

Funnily enough, the recession has almost disappeared from the front pages.


Bob Swan is in Montreaux

Doctor with anti-flu drugs
Bob Swann says the Swiss do seem to have a plan to battle the virus
The news media here in Switzerland seem to be saying pretty much the same as the media everywhere else.

There's a kind of morbid, statistic-quoting exercise going on which seems designed to make us all think that the Black Death has reappeared.

The way they talk about the latest death count is nauseating.

Switzerland is a small country but it's no better or worse in this respect than the rest of the world.

There does seem to be a "pandemic emergency plan" developed by the Swiss federal government, but I haven't really heard much about it.

In common with governments around the world, they are keeping quiet about it, leaving it to the media and pharmaceutical companies to make the noise.


Andrea Bojti is in Marbella

Andrea Bojti in Marbella
Andrea says the media response will improve our survival chances
In Spain people have been fairly relaxed, but Spain has massive connections to Mexico and there are many visitors travelling between the two countries all the time. I fear that Spain will be harder hit by this virus than any other European country.

In the Spanish media, there is plenty of information available on the flu with lots of expert interviews from the Spanish medical world.

El Mundo newspaper's website has created a map with all the cases, suspected and confirmed, even leaving space for the number of deaths and naming the first infected person. This is typical of the Spanish media, which is always more graphic than in other countries.

But I am full of doubts when I hear reports that the government is ensuring the country is very well prepared and has lots of anti-viral drugs.

When I tried to secure some Tamiflu for my family, it was already sold out in our local pharmacies. Now it is forbidden to sell it, and it is being controlled by the military and hospitals.

Overall though, all countries seem to be following a very similar protocol in dealing with the information available - which I find amazing and reassuring.

This kind of response from the media, medical and pharmaceutical worlds was not possible during any previous epidemics and I am hopeful that this will significantly improve our chances of survival.


Michele Karagiannis is in Thessaloniki

Microscopic image of the swine flu virus
Michele says the information available in the Greek news is well balanced
The Greek reaction, for a change, is the correct amount, enough to educate, not enough to panic the people. I've found more information from the BBC and the internet in general but I've also found all information in the Greek news to be well balanced.

Of course everyone has become an expert on some of the talk shows, but there has been nothing over the top and certainly nothing compared to the SARS coverage.

At Athens airport they have installed heat scanners just in case of people travelling with a temperature and seemingly some of the major hospitals are on stand by.

People aren't frightened of these measures, they'd rather be protected. If anything people are too blasé and are fed up with it all after SARS and bird flu.

I believe, so long as people don't panic, the Greek system will cope, but if it does become a fully fledged pandemic then I believe no government will cope, as people are not rational in times of sickness and they will panic.

For now, I've been to the chemists to get antibacterial soap. I am also avoiding public transport as our bendy buses aren't the most hygienic. A few friends asked me to go into the city, but I've said no, as I want to avoid crowds of people.

If you don't have to go somewhere, then just don't.

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