Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Run For The Hills - Swine Flu Is Near!

The media has latched on to a new scare phenomenon: swine flu! If you watch cable news these days, you may be left with the impression that we are headed for a bubonic plague like run of this disease. Alas, examination of swine flu statistics kind of debunks that.

So far we know that 154 people have died in Mexico from swine flu. The World Health Organization reports that about 1,600 Mexicans have been infected. In the United States there have been 64 total cases, and no deaths. Throughout the rest of the world - a mere smattering of cases - most of them not yet confirmed.

While those 154 cases in Mexico are tragic for family and friends of the deceased, they hardly require full blown panic. More than 100 Million people live in Mexico. A very very small percentage of the population has been infected.

In the US, the over the top scare aspect of this is even worse. We are talking about 64 cases in a country of more than 300 million. How is this even news worthy?

To put this in perspective, according to the Center for Disease Control, regular old influenza and pneumonia combined cause about 63,000 deaths per year in the US. Somehow the media doesn't start off every flu season though with a massive scare campaign designed to get ratings and terrify anyone getting the sniffles.

We certainly should be vigilant about monitoring disease and working to prevent it, but I can't help but think that in no time at all Swine Flu will have gone the way of SARS, Bird Flu and Mad Cow Disease. They were good for ratings, controllable, and not quite the threat they were made out to be.


  1. You're absolutely correct about the media sensationalism surrounding swine flu. At the beginning of my Thursday class, one of my students asked if they were going to shut down the university because of the swine flu. My answer: I don't know, but I seriously doubt it. First, there are no known cases of it among faculty, staff or students. Second, we're one-and-a-half weeks from finals.

    Could you imagine the plethora of problems that would exist if they shut down the university before finals? What would happen to all the people who are supposed to graduate this semester? Yet students were worried that they were going to die if the university didn't cancel classes. I chalk it up to irresponsible journalism. I'm convinced that "infotainment" will be the downfall of this nation.

  2. Wouldn't it be neat if the government created a law that fined the media for sensationalism, and/or misrepresenting a situation. Wouldn't we see them come into line then!!!