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Experts believe that the bird flu virus circulating in Asia could trigger a human flu pandemic killing up to 100 million people. Public health authorities' reaction to this threat demands a delicate balancing act: they must prepare the public without needlessly frightening them.

In an article in Perspectives in Health, risk communication experts Peter Sandman and Jody Lanard offer ten recommendations on how best to achieve this balance.

The authors say that maintaining a middle ground is essential to build the mutual trust upon which effective action depends.

Their recommendations are based on two convictions: that governments need to start motivating people to take the threat of a human flu pandemic seriously, and that risk communication principles provide the best guidance on how to do so.

The top five recommendations to public health scientists and governments are to: think as a member of the public, not be afraid to scare people into action, share uncertainties and policy dilemmas, and suggest ways that people can begin to prepare themselves.

Link to full Perspectives in Health article