On Friday, no one—well, very few—had a care in the world. Today, bird flu is a distant memory and swine flu is poised to kill us all! So, can pigs fly? Or is it that Chicken Little was right about the sky falling?
I admit I’ve been skeptical about the whole avian influenza pandemic thing. But how can the swine flu situation have popped up so suddenly and, apparently, unexpectedly? Have public health officials been asleep at the switch? Is this a case of failing to remove the plank from their own eye?
Similar to expectations for avian flu (H5N1), the swine flu (H1N1) tends to affect the young and healthy. But, with 40 confirmed cases in the US, I disagree this constitutes a public health emergency. I work in government, so I’m familiar with some of the games involving funding and jurisdiction. I’m afraid some have adapted labels for political purposes that have entirely different meanings to the average citizen.
Forty confirmed cases in a population of 306.3 million for the USA is a case rate of 1.225 per 100,000 people, or 0.000012%. So far, none of the US cases have been fatal. This is not a pandemic, folks. Yes, the deaths in Mexico are terrible, and the disease warrants monitoring, but it’s not a crisis!
Nonetheless, the stock market’s down today. Not sure if that’s because of GM and Chrysler announcements regarding the automakers’ restructuring efforts, but I suspect not. While GM’s anouncement seems somewhat negative, it was not unexpected. And Chrysler’s is more positive than anticipated. So, it seems swine flu is already affecting the economy. Never mind it’s only a few days old.
Tragic as it is, even Mexico’s fatality rate from H1N1 swine flu is only 0.8 per 100,000. The world health map can help put this in some perspective. That brings us to the real question. Which is the bigger concern? The potential health pandemic or the power of Twitter to misinform? Seems to me a tweet is no more than Chicken Little declaring the sky is falling.
Now, as a safety professional, I have to recommend folks take reasonable precautions. The most effective of these is simply frequent hand-washing. The CDC has others.