5.11.2009

Pearls Before Swine


Which is more--twenty or thirty thousand, or fifty-nine?

The first is the approximate number of deaths over the last few years, per year, from 'influenza and pneumonia', one of the top ten killers in the country. The second, of course, is the number of deaths from the virus formerly known as swine flu, now known as H1N1 flu, which, though unreported, is also the antigen configuration that makes up a goodly portion of the seasonal flu. Now, I'm no public health guru, I'm just a simple resident. Somehow, though, those numbers call recent calls for global action into question just a tad.

We all love a crisis. Me more than most, apparently, since I picked a job where 'crisis' is part of the daily routine. We're good at it; we can pick a discrete enemy to fight.

I must say, though, that the reaction to this pandemic has been just a trifle ludicrous. Fifty-nine deaths? Really? Schools closed, flights diverted, billions of dollars, for fifty-nine deaths?

Not to mention the ED overload with people spreading whatever other gunk they had to each other in order to get tested for swine flu. Awesome. Sterling.

The public health departments actually did the job they were supposed to. They performed surveillance on a new threat and quickly tried to characterize it's mortality rate and epidemiologic characteristics. This work has to, by nature, be paranoid. It's the job of those of us watching and interpreting to avoid mass hysteria, and in this, we failed. I blame mostly the media, frankly, and Joe Biden for good measure as a proxy for elected leaders.

Oh, there's a new virus? Let's cover it for ten minutes of every hour of every day for weeks on end, close schools with no cases, and generally freak out as if the world is ending and make sure people know it COULD HAPPEN TO YOU AT ANY SECOND, especially if you happen to have Mexicans in your neighborhood or even in your time zone. Oh, wait, that's all of us.

Where are all these people for the ongoing threats we have to face on a daily basis? Where's the call for clean water worldwide? Where's the call for increased flu vaccination coverage, which is almost always woefully abysmal? Where's the call to stop diarrhea? Where's the call to actually, shock, have a helmet law or make drunk driving illegal to reduce accidents (no, it really isn't illegal, first time, in some midwestern states. It's a citation). Hmmm, must be too busy spraying down the playground equipment with powerful cleansing agents, because that will somehow stop the kids from sneezing on each other when they come back.

Seriously. Hissy-fit extraordinaire.

3 comments:

platensimycin said...

When we have TV program that reads "Swine Flu: The Science of Pandemics. The development and mutation of a superflu virus and the decision that must be made when trying to contain a new virus," (NGC)

...it is no wonder that we have a mass hysteria.

Anonymous said...

But if you make drunk driving actually illegal in Wisconsin, the tavern owners might not sell as much beer! (That's what they say on the local news.) And if you put people in jail after the third offense, then who would tavern owners sell beer to?

Heck our state officials would be in even more trouble than they are. :(

platensimycin said...

Truth been told, there are many aspects of this year's H1N1 that are atypical of influenza.

The bottom line is that societies need to be ready for a potential mutation + outbreak. Meanwhile, the strain has exhibited high morbidity but low mortality rate. Does this warrant a wides-scale hysteria? In my opinion, NO.