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Swine Flu: Much ado about nothing

Every year “The Flu” rages across the world.  Leaving in it’s wake a trial of thousands dead.  Most of the casualties being the elderly, newborns, and immune impaired (AIDs, chemo, diabetes patients).  This happens every year, and it rarely makes a human interest piece on the news.

So why is swine flu different?  Why is is causing thousands of American public schools to close their doors even without infected students, causing riots in Mexico, and worldwide travel restrictions?  The simple truth is the media love fear.  Fear gets them ratings.  The so called swine flu is N1H1, these refer to surface proteins on the flu capsid, is mainly a zoonose (native to animals, not humans)  and when zoonoses leap into humans it can be a big concern.  Since the human immune system has never seen these viruses before they are often devastating.  The next pandemic killer will likely be a zoonose of pox virus.

So why shouldn’t we worry about swine flu?  Simple, the vast majority of people who contract the virus have very mild flu symptoms.  Most of the people who have died from the virus were elderly or very young.  Preliminary studies indicate that it has a very low virulence value (it is not well adapted to humans and does not easily spread).  So this means that the virus will only spread in heavily populated areas, causing mild illness, and can likely be curtailed with nothing more than hand-washing and other sanity rituals.

Fear is an easy emotion to capitalize upon and make ratings!   Yes the public needs to be informed about epidemics, but schools should not be shut down.  Yes 328 people have been diagnosed with swine flu and 18 have died.  That is 5% and that is a terrifying number.  But here’s what the media doesn’t want you to know.  There have only been 328 confirmed cases.  There have likely been >3000 total cases!  Suddenly 0.5% mortality doesn’t seem so news worthy.  This more realistic estimation makes swine flu about as harmful as the regular common flu.  And as swine flu gets better at infecting people, it will likely be less virulent…. as a good respiratory virus succeeds the most if the host feels good and coughs while at work/school.

The solution is simple.  Wash your hands.  If you feel sick, have the common courtesy to stay home a day or two (sick days are NOT for going to the beach!).  If you feel a little sick, stay home and chances are you will feel great in 48 hours; there is no point in going to a doctor’s office and being exposed to everyone else’s germs.  If you feel really sick, see a doctor.

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