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Swine flu: Separating hysteria from fact

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As of today, Monday April 27, I agree completely with President Obama when he says that while swine flu is an issue of concern, it is “not a cause for alarm.” There are several reasons why you should not panic in spite of the incessant media drum beat and the minute by minute updates. First, so far this is an extremely uncommon illness affecting a very small number of people in the United States, all of whom had mild illness and recovered without incident. Yes, it might spread further, but even so, let’s take a step back and remember that we’re talking about influenza, not Ebola or smallpox. And while full-blown influenza is no walk in the park, for most people it’s not even remotely life-threatening. It’s an unpleasant upper respiratory illness with systemic symptoms of fever, weakness and body aches, that can knock you out for a week, but from which you’ll recover, without treatment and without having to go even to the doctor, let alone to the hospital.

The Department of Health and Human Services has declared this a public health emergency, further fueling people’s concerns. But again, this step also is “not a cause for alarm.” This is a precautionary measure that formally allows for certain government resources to be allocated for monitoring, testing, treatment, prevention and education, etc. In fact, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called the emergency declaration “standard operating procedure,” and said she would rather call it a “declaration of emergency preparedness.” “It’s like declaring one for a hurricane,” she said. “It means we can release funds and take other measures. The hurricane may not actually hit.” Ironically, while trying to avoid any appearance of Bush-era Katrina-related flat-footedness, the declaration of public emergency may have had the opposite effect, causing more alarm as every media outlet took this announcement as a green light to go into full 24 hour live coverage mode.

Maybe this epidemic will get worse before it gets better. Only time will tell. But for now, calm in the face of hysteria is all important. Common sense measures are warranted. f

swine flu

Hand washing and hand sanitizers are always a good idea as I’ve written about before. If you do get sick, stay home. If your kids get sick keep them out of school. This is an important measure to help reduce spread of illness, and one all-to-often ignored in spite of all the exhortations to follow. Cover your coughs and sneezes and dispose of the tissues you use to do so. Then wash or disinfect your hands again. Most viral illnesses are spread either through respiratory aerosols from coughing or sneezing or through hand-to-face contact. You touch some germ ridden surface and then you touch your eyes, nose or mouth. It happens all day long, completely below your conscious awareness. So wash and disinfect regularly.

I’ll have more to say on swine flu tomorrow. I’ll take a look at what to do if you do get sick and those special groups who are at higher risk for more serious illness if they do come down with influenza.

Oh, and by the way, swine flu is transmitted either by contact with pigs or with other humans who have the illness. It is not a food-borne illness. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork. As always, properly and thoroughly cooking pork is important to prevent meat-borne illness like trichinosis, but that’s got nothing to do with influenza. You can’t get swine influenza from eating pork, period.

Last Updated:4/27/2009
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Date: 13.12.2018, 20:00 / Views: 72354