You can learn a lot about bird flu and the specter of a global human
flu epidemic by checking official information from the government or
medical groups. But thousands of times a day, people turn to a much
different source.

It’s Flu Wiki, a website maintained by a 52-year-old writer who
specializes in risk communication. It draws in part on contributions
from people who don’t reveal their names, much like Wikipedia, an
encyclopedic website that lets anyone contribute.

Why should anybody trust a source like this?

"I’m working with some of the best scientists in the country on the
subject of pandemic influenza," said Melanie Mattson, who maintains the
site. "If I have a question about what’s going on I ask them."

And Flu Wiki, the Virginia resident said, is "probably the most
complete authority in English on pandemic influenza on the internet."

Even for a site with more than 1,200 pages of content, that’s a bold claim. The field includes not only an official U.S. government site,
but also others from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and the World Health Organization. There are also plenty of
bloggers who focus on flu.

But Flu Wiki also offers the wisdom of its expert contributors, Mattson said.

She can’t identify them publicly, mostly because they fear losing
federal money for giving opinions that clash with the Bush
administration, she said. The disagreements aren’t so much on the basic
science of bird flu, but rather on what to do about it.

Flu Wiki, which averages up to 5,000 hits a day, impressed some flu
experts who examined it recently at the request of The Associated Press.

Dr. Arnold S. Monto of the University of Michigan said he found the
site’s information reliable in general. Such sites can provide "a
single place for people to go who want to get information which they
may have to troll for in some of the official sites," he said.

Peter Cowen of North Carolina State University, moderator of a
disease-monitoring website sponsored by the International Society for
Infectious Diseases, said he had mixed feelings about Flu Wiki.