Fear factor in a pandemic panic: 20 years of reaction to the World Health Organisation warning on infectious diseases

In May 2001, America was and the world was in a panic about a potential pandemic. The threat led all three members of the Big Three – Costco, Wal-Mart, and BJ’s – to urgently discount disinfectant powders. But while the war on drugs had kept 100,000 people in jail each day, this was proving far less effective with the virus.

If you needed reassurance that there was little risk of infection for yourself or family members you were advised to stay home or to stay indoors wearing clothes that would trap the virus for your spouse. No virus spread by cough or sneeze was permitted inside your home, at least for the time being. New home delivery services including Vanish Your Bacterial Dettol and Frontline Home Delivery were offered by insurance companies. But even family members within the house could be exposed to the spores through a cockroach or maybe a biting insect.

Ten years on, the prevailing wisdom appears to be that World Health Organisation experts were wrong to promote the use of sterile powder. The use of disinfectant creams or, if home deliveries of family members proved too costly, ear drops did not seem to protect people, but may have been more effective than home dosing.

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