April 28 2009

Remember, You Can’t Have “Swine Flu” Without “Flu”

panicIt’s times like this that I think back to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

“Don’t Panic”.

I won’t bother explaining the quote.  If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you get it.  If you haven’t done either, you still get it… it’s like a universal quote.

The insanity that is circulating around the recent outbreak of swine flu is staggering.  You couldn’t bat an eye on Twitter this weekend without someone talking about it.  Blogs are writing endless posts about what to do.  Television shows are being interrupted to bring you the latest news when an a confirmed case is reported…


We get it, there is a flu going around… it is transmitted via human-to-human contact… people have died.

You know what this reminds me of?


Yes, it is a bit worse because this one came out of the blue, and we do not currently have a vaccine for it, but, then again, sometimes the vaccaine is worse than the flu for those who remember what happened in 1976.  In short, the vaccaine ended up killing a lot of people, and the pandemic like spread of the virus they predicted never materialized.

I do think it is wise to inform the public, “Hey, this is going on, you need to be careful, wash your hands, don’t go to work if you’re sick”, etc, but these are common sense rules everyone should follow.  Course, if they did, then I wouldn’t have had to write a post like Social Etiquette While You’re Sick just last month.  Do make sure you go back and read that because it is filled with basic tips that may keep you healthy during any flu outbreak.

What gets me is how the media is just making this worse.  They are acting as if no one has ever died from the flu before.  So, I went and looked up the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports on flu mortality rates.  Here is the excerpt for just the 2007-2008 flu season.

As of June 19, 2008, 83 deaths associated with laboratory-confirmed influenza infections have occurred among children aged < 18 years during the 2007–08 influenza season that were reported to CDC. These deaths were reported from 33 states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin). Among the 83 cases, the mean and median age was 6.4 years and 5.0 years, respectively; seven children were aged < 6 months, 16 were aged 6–23 months, 18 were aged 2–4 years, and 42 were aged 5–17 years. Of the 79 cases for which the influenza virus type was known, 51 were influenza A viruses, 27 were influenza B viruses, and one had co-infection with influenza A and B viruses. Of the 63 cases aged 6 months and older for whom vaccination status was known, 58 (92%) had not been vaccinated against influenza according to the 2007 Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations. These data are provisional and subject to change as more information becomes available.

83 deaths in the United States alone. Where were the experts on TV to tell us how we should protect ourselves? Where were the flashy graphics? Where were the news conferences by elected officials? What about the travel warnings by other countries? Oh, that’s right, it’s because this happens every year.

There is an old saying in journalism, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Here you have a pre-packaged story for lazy reporters. You have deaths… in an exotic locale… a snazzy, brandable name (go and try to find a Swine Flu related domain name that isn’t taken… I dare ya) that is easy to say and can invoke fear because it’s short and weird sounding… hey, wait a minute, didn’t we play this exact same scenario out with Avian flu? Oh, and wasn’t it SARS a few years before that was going to kill us all?

Again, I am not saying you should be cavalier about this, do take precautions, I’m just saying they should be no different than the ones you should take every flu season.  And as for the people in the media… stop being lazy.

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