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D1.5 - Report on Narratives and Urban Myths

on Wed, 01/16/2013 - 09:40

Urban myths and false beliefs about diseases and vaccines have always existed. They are different kinds of wrong information that may influence people’s behaviour in case of epidemics. This report focuses on these forms of narratives in order to help understanding people’s perception towards the emergencies raised by infectious disease outbreaks. The document investigates different aspects of the phenomenon.

Firstly, it describes the theoretical context behind urban myths, contemporary legends, rumours and other forms of folk narratives, and discusses the significance of myths and legends for humans, in helping them to understand and conceptualise the complexities of the world. It then provides information about how they survive in time, how they become generated and how they diffused to the public.

The report also present several examples for past and contemporary history. For instance, the Spanish Influenza of 1918, the most devastating pandemic in recent memory. Several stories and legends grew up to explain its virulence and offer potential cures. Even about its name, which was not due to the fact that it was more diffused in Spain, but to the fact that Spain – neutral during the First World War – was one of the few countries that provided wide scale coverage of the pandemic, giving the impression that it was more prevalent there than anywhere else.

There were stories of healthy people getting on trams, only to die before they reached their stop, or waking up healthy but dying before night fell. As a result, the disease was initially known as the “Three (or Five) Day Fever”. Numerous theories also arose about its origin: it was rumoured to be a German weapon, or a side-effect of the widespread use of mustard gas during the First World War. One of the primary reason of confusion was that, unlike most flu outbreaks, it hit the hardest those between the ages of 20 and 40, while children and the elderly had a better chance of survival. It has since been discovered that the flu caused the body’s immune system to drastically overreact, which meant that those with a strongest immune system were most at risk.

Similar myths appeared again for the H1N1 flu (also called “swine flu”). In that case, urban legends claimed that the flu has been created by man, that it was a weapon of mass destruction, an instrument to induce mass vaccination or even a plan developed by some Governments to create a global crises.

The report also analysed with great attention most of the myths surrounding vaccines.

Read the document online:
D1.5 - Report on Narratives and Urban Myths