|In defense of hysteria
||[May. 6th, 2009|02:30 pm]
I'm usually first in line to excoriate the media for blowing something out of proportion, making things worse by generating panic through incomplete information, treating op-ed press releases as news instead of publishing hard cold facts and balanced information. |
And right now I see a lot of people taking potshots at the media (and CDC/WHO) for whipping everyone into a panic. People who are saying "It's just the same flu we get every year but THEY are fomenting hysteria." Actually "fomenting" would be my word...because I hardly ever get to use it.
Newsflash: It ain't the same flu.
65,000 people die every year from the usual influenza. That's a lot. But swine flu, H1N1, isn't that kind of influenza. The usual influenza kills the very young, the very old and the very sick. If I may be heartless for a moment, we can lose 65,000 of the very young, the very old, the very sick and while that's devastating to the individuals who've lost someone, it really has very little effect on daily life.
Spanish flu, to whom the current swine flu, and the previous avian flu are all closely related...kissing kin, if you will, infected about 50% of the population exposed to it.
Imagine how well your place of work would deal with half of your colleagues calling in sick for days. Now imagine half the teachers...half the bus drivers...half the police force...half the doctors, nurses.
H1N1 variations don't go after the weak. It goes after the healthy, young adults, the middle aged, merrily paralyzing your immune system so if the Swine Flu or SARS isn't enough to get you, the flesh-eating staph infection will. Or that sinus infection it took you three months and seven antibiotic prescriptions to get over. Not that there will be enough doctors or pharmacists well enough to get you a prescription.
Which is dire, and we'd like to think, overblown...but then again Spanish flu wiped out the equivalent of 1/3 the population of Europe. 50 million people. And that was in an age where infection had to spread the old-fashioned way. At the speed of turn of the century travel.
Sure, our medical care is way more advanced. That's good news. The bad news: we have airplanes now. And cars that go over 30 miles an hour. First reports of swine flu outside of Mexico with 2 cases reported in the US. Twelve days later, over 1500 cases, 23 countries. In 12 days. 23 countries. That's if you assume that Africa, China and a lot of developing nations have the infrastructure or interest in reporting. So, if this had been deadly, not just one country, one area would be crippled, but everywhere. All at once. With little to no time to prepare.
(If it weren't excruciatingly boring, I'd tell you about what's been happening to the supply of face masks and gloves. Like, oh, you've never bought face masks from us before? Yah, okay, I don't have enough to sell you now. Current customers only. Next!)
So, perhaps you can understand the hysteria a little -- because the best solution is to keep people from infecting each other. And if that means scaring the crap into them so they stay the hell home, then fine. Keeping the spread of the infection slower than the pace with which we can produce medicines and treatment is what needs to happen. And with that kind of spread in 12 days...if it turns deadly, think of the effect. On the workplace, the economy, the health system.
If we're ready in advance -- if WHO rings the bell that sets loose the supplies of flu drugs, if everyone pulls out their pandemic preparedness guides, dusts them off and updates the phone numbers -- that's GOOD. If it gets even some people to wash their damn hands, quit sticking their snotty tissues up their sleeves, stops coughing into random air -- even better. Cough into your elbow, never your hands -- you know that right?
Oh, sure, like SARS, so far, it turns out to be pretty mild. Cool. But just remember, staph used to be an infection (and in many cases still is) that maybe gave you a boil. Maybe was a problem if you were already sick, old, immuno-compromised. And then suddenly (from an evolutionary perspective) one of those pesky bacteria said "hey, I wonder what healthy flesh tastes like? Mmmmm. Ooooooh, that's good. If eat that -- oh, look, I just reproduced myself faster than the bacteria back home! Yay, me, I'm a tough guy! Pah, I spit upon your amoxicillin!" and suddenly staph was no longer an annoyance, but a flesh-eating bacteria called MRSA.
Which isn't me trying to scare you -- and there IS plenty of panic. Petty minded people who are casting aspersions on anyone Hispanic. Idiots slaughtering pigs. But I'm going home tonight to enjoy my pork chops. After I wash my hands. Because swine flu or not...some of you today will use the rest room and not wash your hands, or use a tissue to blow your nose and then not wash your hands. And that's just, while not hysteria-worthy, gross.