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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

summer scares, journalmalism style: swine flu!

Swine flu! It’s this summer’s runaway brides! It’s this summer’s shark attacks! Don’t miss it!

You won’t be able to miss it, no matter how hard you try. Scared yet?

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  • bitchen frizzy

    Crazy, isn’t it?

    Swine flu has infected a few hundred people in the U.S., and killed one person.

    Ordinary, everyday flu infects hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. annually, and kills thousands.

    If we should be panicking and wearing masks for swine flu, then I guess we should be running around screaming and throwing ourselves in front of trains for ordinary flu.

  • My roommate had the standard flu this year, and while it wasn’t pleasant, it didn’t kill her. She was prescribed Tamiflu to shorten the duration of the illness and she still had to take a week off work. I was prescribed Tamiflu because I was in direct contact with her.

    That said, loading up on Tamiflu when you don’t already have the flu and are not immediately exposed is one of the dumbest things you can do. Viruses have the ability to become resistant to anti-virals. Unless you are loading up your family with tamiflu every flu season, this a pointless bit of hysteria. The flu sucks, but the swine flu isn’t any worse than any other flu.

  • Well on the plus side, the panic did lead to the creation of this image:


    So it can’t be all bad.

  • PaulW

    Swine flu has nothing on SHARK FLU!

    Enjoy your Captain Trips.

  • Mimi

    OK, laugh all you want, but read “Flu” by Gina Kolata (NY Times science reporter), and you’ll get it. OK, you can still laugh at over-the-top local news hysteria, but you will also be more humbled for knowing exactly what mother nature can do (and will do again, eventually) with teeny tiny little viruses. Like, kill you and a third of the people you know. Really, really fast.

    I mean it — go read “Flu” — it’s a great book and Kolata’s a good writer.

    “The flu sucks, but the swine flu isn’t any worse than any other flu.”
    is factually incorrect. Mock the hysteria, but know your facts.

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, Mimi, I think we’re all aware that the flu can be very danergous indeed. We’re not mocking viruses: we’re mocking our media.

    (I deleted the tamilfu spam.)

  • Pollas

    It’s the avian flu all over again. Obviously, the swine flu is something to be aware of, but as always the fearmongering media and others (*cough*WHO*cough*) are making everything worse. The best prevention for everyone is really simple: WASH YOUR HANDS.

  • Alli

    Mimi, if you say we need to learn the facts, then why don’t you enlighten us? As far as we know it causes similar symptoms, it can kill the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, and it can be killed by washing your hands. It is resistant to some types of antivirals and is sensitive to others. Sounds a lot like normal human influenza to me. It also has just as much chance of mutating into a lethal, super evil strain just like all viruses. What should we do? Live alone in a bubble? Bathe is hand sanitizer?

  • Mimi

    I suggested one excellent way to get enlightened — read the Kolata book. Or http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/avian_faqs/en/index.html , which was written about avian flu, but what they write about flu pandemics and the dangers of non-human flu becoming highly contagious in humans is applicable to the current situation. (Note that the current “swine flu” has elements of swine, avian, and human flu in it).

    One thing that is concerning is that it does not just infect/kill the very young/elderly, as suggested above — in fact, it appears to be more prevalent/worse for young, healthy people with good immune systems. This is dangerous because (1) there’s a much larger pool of such people, and (2) such people are much more mobile and thus able to spread the virus to others. The worst flu pandemic of the last century, the 1918 Spanish flu, shared this characteristic, and that is part of what made it so deadly (25% of Americans caught it, roughly 40 million died worldwide).

    Flu viruses that originate in animals (like swine flu or avian/bird flu) but mutate to become catch-able or worse, transmittable, by humans are worse than “ordinary” human flu, because our resistance to them is much lower (in some cases nonexistent). Have you had human flu? Probably. That means that the next time you get human flu, your immune system has a clue what to do about it, even though it’s mutated dramatically since the last time you had it (viruses are smart that way). Have you ever had a flu that’s a mixture of human, avian, and swine flu? No? Me neither. Because there hasn’t been one yet, that we know of — so good luck with that. This is why its potential mutations are more dangerous than “ordinary” flu.

    I’m not saying we should run around the streets screaming. But it bothers me how flippantly people are responding to this when it has already killed people, will kill more people, and has the real (and unusually high) potential to kill a truly scary number of people. Ignore screaming headlines if they bug you — just read info from the CDC or WHO or only the articles in the NY Times, for example. (If you, as the poster above, think the WHO is a bunch of foolish scaremongers, well, then I don’t know what else to say — good day to you!) Again, what’s scary about this virus is not how deadly it’s been so far, but how deadly it has the potential to be — and its potential is higher than we’ve seen in many years. It deserves to be taken seriously.

    Yeah, that’s a soapbox lecture, but you literally asked for it.

    (Now, don’t delete me for my long-windedness, MaryAnn! I believe you when you say you’re aware the flu can be dangerous, but the way I read the comments, other people don’t — they think this is much ado about nothing. It’s not.)

  • Victor Plenty

    Pandemic flu can be dangerous, but nowhere near as dangerous as blind panic (and no matter how well informed the panicky people may think they are because of whatever books or Wikipedia articles they’ve read, panic is ALWAYS blind).

    The CDC, WHO, and other public health agencies are recommending sensible, calm steps that make good preparation for any potential emergency.

    If the major news media outlets cared at all about their duty to the public, they’d be doing the same, but instead they are sensationalizing the situation for profit. They are only making things worse, whether this turns out to be a real pandemic, or nothing more than a small scale tragedy compared to the death toll every year from seasonal flu.

  • Alli

    Funnily enough, when I wrote my post I had the CDC website open as well. The best way to educate yourself is to find unbiased information and make the best decision for yourself. This is why I refuse to freak out. Also, I know how my immune system works. I’ve taken enough biology classes in the past to understand what a primary and secondary immune response is. We come into contact with different viruses every day. That’s why we have an innate immune system to combat those new antigens.

    As for it attacking the young and healthy like 1918, I would love for you to send me a link to that information. As of now, there is very little info regarding the age and health of the people who died in Mexico. That strain of influenza in 1918 caused cytokine storms in young and healthy individuals. The CDC has not said that the swine flu has created cytokine storms, and instead reflects a typical flu strain. If the CDC comes out and says this flu creates cytokine storms in young, healthy adults, then I’ll worry.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Mimi, of course I understand that flu can be dangerous. Didn’t I already say that it kills thousands of people a year in the U.S.?

    But lots of communicable diseases we don’t panic about are dangerous. I already named ordinary flu strains as an example. How about ebola? Ebola has a high fatality rate. Remember the panic over ebola? Whatever became of that?

    I guess I’m showing my age, but I’ve lived through so many panics over this or that disease, or this or that energy crisis, that I look current panic fads with a bit of perspective.

    So far, swine flu is less virulent than ordinary flu. You keep comparing it to the 1918 epidemic.

  • Mimi

    Meh — I’m out. It’s not fun for me to try to convince you. All I’m saying is, I don’t find this to be something silly. But enjoy treating it as such if that makes you happy.

  • Victor Plenty

    So, Mimi, no interest in conversation? Just seeking an audience more slavishly agreeable than we turned out to be?

    Seems to me you’re not listening to what anyone here is telling you. Nobody here is treating pandemic flu itself as silly. Quite the opposite, in fact. The media over-reaction deserves to be mocked BECAUSE it dilutes the seriousness of the danger. When nobody really knows yet whether this is the real deal, crying wolf risks making people excessively skeptical if and when the world faces a truly scary outbreak.

    But I guess there’s no point in clarifying anything now that you’ve gone. Buh-bye, take care. Hope you have better luck in future.

  • Victor Plenty

    The silly thing here is, after working so hard to convince us how serious we should be about the situation, Mimi flakes out with the universal indicator of indifference (“Meh”). I guess truly madly deeply caring about this stuff turned out to be harder than she thought it was.

    But that’s not all! She also explains that she can’t be bothered to converse with us because “It’s not fun.” Really? The same person who, just a few lines earlier, was lecturing the rest of us that “not fun” is EXACTLY what any conversation about influenza SHOULD be?

    Fun times.

    Meanwhile, here’s yet another clip about the swine flu, for those who still like fun once in awhile.

  • Silvia Diaz

    Dr. Henry Neiman, one of the foremost experts on flu viruses said the following:

    “The current swine flu virus (H1N1) is following the same pattern as the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. It broke out in the Spring, it has mainly killed people in their prime and it has been relatively mild. This was exactly the same course taken by the H1N1 virus in 1918 so there is no reason to believe the current virus will not return this fall in a more virulent form just as the Spanish flu did almost a century ago.

    When asked how deadly the Spanish Flu pandemic had been he said: “40% of the world population had been infected and 3% of them had died.” At our current population levels 2.7 billion people will become infected and 816 million people will die.

    So if you think this is just hype or a government ploy to distract people’s attention from the economy then simply take no precautions! Don’t store food, medication or water and refuse to take the vaccine if and when it becomes available because I have come to the conclusion this pandemic will be nature’s way of weeding out stupidity. The same kind of stupidity which has led us to destroy our environment and to reproduce way beyond our Earth’s carrying capacity.

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