Sunday, April 26, 2009

Oink

I was doing dishes earlier today, looking pensive and Heidi said to me "What are you thinking about?" to which I answered, "Well, if you want to know the truth...swine flu." Bet she didn't see THAT coming.

I've been reading a lot about the outbreak of swine flu that seems to have started in Mexico City and has so far spread to 5 different states in the U.S., confirmed in 3 countries and suspected in up to 6 more. When I first started hearing rumblings of it a couple of days ago, it was hard not to jump to the worst case scenario. For those of you that don't know, the worst case scenario is The Stand in which a superflu wipes out pretty much the entire population of the world. But since we all know that's just a story, and I've actually had a couple people ask me what I think of this from a health care professional standpoint, I thought what the hell, even though I am not super-qualified to speak on it. After all, I'm neither a virologist or an epidemiologist.

The simple fact of the matter is that, despite what the government and the news media are telling you, no one knows what's going to happen. Right now, things are not pointing toward widespread mortality from this particular strain of swine flu. There could be significant morbidity, but that is something we're just going to have to wait and see on. It doesn't seem to have a high mortality rate - only 20 confirmed deaths in over 1400 cases - and everyone in the U.S. that has tested positive for the virus has recovered or is recovering. So that's good.

What's not so good is that I really do think that this is going to be a pandemic influenza. That does not mean that it's going to be Captain Tripps and it's the end of civilization as we know it. We've had flu pandemics before and the last one was the Hong Kong flu 41 years ago which was not particularly lethal (at least not compared to 1918-1919) but they do happen. It's also true that we are well overdue for an influenza pandemic. There's been some speculation as to how much immunity the flu vaccine from last fall will provide, which is likely none as this combination of existing pig, bird and human influenza viruses is novel.

The part that bothers me the most about this is how the media is treating this, which I would say is borderline negligent in its attempts to whip up mass hysteria. All mainstream media outlets are guilty of this, but two that I frequent are especially bad. The Drudge Report has multiple scary headlines as links, and the Huffington Post (which really, in my mind IS the liberal version of the Drudge Report and because of that is annoying me more with each passing day) has equally scary headlines in 48-point red font. This helps in no way or form and the only reason they're doing it is because it makes good copy and for our mainstream media, news and entertainment are completely indistinguishable from one another so why should they bother trying to differentiate now.

I think the real story lies somewhere between the OMG-scary-might-as-well-jump-off-a-bridge-now attitude of the news outlets and a minimalist "oh, it's no big deal." Yes, this is a big deal. No, it's likely not the end of the world (although I can't wait for some religious wacko to try to blame the swine flu on gay marriage. You watch. It'll happen.) But we're likely to see quite a few people get sick.

So we don't know what's going to happen with this, and ultimately, we can't control it. Worrying is just wasted energy.

In the meantime, here's the Google Map tracking cases of swine flu. And if you want to read a great book on the 1918-1919 Spanish influenza pandemic, here's the link, although now might not be the best time to start reading it!

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