THE ZOMBIE-THEMED movie I Am Legend made me fascinated with the zombie apocalypse as well as with the possible end of the human race through nuclear war.

Recently, I stumbled upon the Shelter Management Manual, which illustrates how to build and manage a good fallout shelter. In the sixth page, something caught my eye: “Keep shelterees informed…This will help prevent rumors, which could adversely affect morale and shelter management control.”

Similarly, in an earthquake poster seen in government offices say something like “don’t spread rumors.”

Gossip has been our diet from the day we are born until the hour of our death. When babies nowadays get their first breath of life, they’re greeted by their mothers, as well as outgoing text messages from family members. Ditto with death. An example was Francis “Francis M” Magalona’s death some months ago—it was so hard to think of the Philippine hip-hopper as dead and gone.

Though everyone has the faculty for critical thinking, rumors become packaged in a deal so believable that they sound real. In truth, many rumors hardly ever have any substance in them, not to mention concrete evidence. The victims of pyramid scams were mostly induced to join because of rumors and gullibility.

What made it worse was that pyramiding institutionalized the spreading of rumors by promising money. Rumors spread like wildfire, and this is the most dangerous yet most useful aspect of rumors, depending on your side of course. During the impeachment trial of former President Estrada, my parents and teachers were continually loading up our Nokia 3210’s to keep track of the trial. One author mentioned that if it were not for the cellphone, EDSA Dos would not have become reality.

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When nuclear war is imminent, people should not spread rumors because they sow panic. But to write about the AH1N1 outbreak, people should be more discerning of what they hear.

In the AH1N1 advisory in the Varsitarian’s last issue, even the staff members of the publication felt the apparent scare of the virus. During the Varsitarian’s out-of-town editorial planning, we got wind of schools closing down to check the spread of swine flu. It created panic.

Rumors flooded my cellular phone’s inbox about, involving the epidemic’s spread. Among these rumors were 24 Far Eastern University students reportedly getting infected and some La Salle students contracting the virus. By far the most believable case was the UST Commerce student victim, who even had a name.

These rumors create much panic. Though official government announcements were made by the Department of Health (DOH), people still did not heed their warnings. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III mentioned that there were no vaccines against swine flu, but in an article by the Inquirer last June 21, I was surprised to see that the Bureau of Food and Drugs would start its crackdown on anti-flu vaccines that give the wrong impression that they protect against AH1N1.

Another such paranoia that people have gone into is wearing masks. I cannot blame those who wear for their “better safe than sorry,” attitude. But Duque and DOH said that AH1N1 is not airborne and is mainly spread through mucus or saliva, hence the need to cover your mouth and the prohibition against spitting. It seems that a scrub suit or lab gown and a box of latex gloves is a more promising investment for health.

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These rumors have become news. In an age when information travels fast and when word of mouth, text, blogs and online videos all seem to be the quickest source of information, becoming to a degree, credible over time, it seems very hard to sift through the dust to find the truth. Everyone seems ready to believe everything they hear, except the DOH and the World Health Organization.

That’s why despite their warped sense, the Shelter Management Manual and the government poster seem practical and sound. Don’t panic. Don’t believe everything you hear. Be critical.

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