Posted by: rcieri | August 2, 2009

The media who cried ‘flu’: Public continues to freak as swine flu moves towards pandemic

by Rachel Cieri, May 5, 2009

Opinion

Students at the Elon University health center wear masks in the waiting room. Families fear serving pork for dinner. And the media never tires of reporting every cough and sneeze to the entire world.

The swine flu has taken the world by storm, if only in people’s minds. With fewer than 900 cases reported out of the world’s 6.7 billion people, one would think the story would be minor news. After all, the United States alone experiences about 200,000 cases of the common flu in a typical season.

But somehow, the word “pandemic” is being tossed around like the surgical masks in the streets of Mexico City.

The validity of the swine flu as a real threat has been challenged before, but the same righteous retort is given repeatedly.

“People are dying from it,” I’m told.

Yes, people have died from the swine flu. That’s undeniable. But there are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration before jumping to the conclusion that the human race has met its doom.

First, only two of the more than 400 confirmed cases in the United States have led to death, and one of those deaths was that of a toddler’s. Toddlers have always been more susceptible to disease, especially to the flu. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention even calls young children a high-risk group for the common flu.

Second, the only other deaths from the H1N1 strain have been in Mexico. Some speculate the strain in Mexico is more severe than the one afflicting Americans, but there is likely another explanation.

The Mexican standard of living is not exactly ideal for disease control. According to Library of Congress statistics, about 21 percent of the population of Mexico has no access to sanitation systems, and there is only about one doctor for every 555 patients in the Mexican heath care system.

Mexico’s GDP is one-fourth that of the United States’, giving it much more limited resources to treat the virus. As of 2002, a quarter of the Mexican population was living below the poverty line.

In contrast, America has some of the world’s best doctors and hospitals, with breakthrough technology and treatments discovered regularly.

The threat of the swine flu is even less valid when compared to the common flu. There are about 36,000 deaths annually from the common flu in the United States alone. The common flu in the United States results in death in about 18 percent of the cases, but the number is less than 1 percent from the swine flu.

The excessive media coverage of the H1N1 virus rarely takes the time to explain these factors. It is simply repeating the hype of hypochondriac health officials.

One would think the media had learned its lesson from the 2006 bird flu scare that has since fallen off the radar for most Americans, after it didn’t leave the impact the public was promised.

Back then we feared chickens, and now we’re scared of pigs. What will be next, the aardvark flu?

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