Flusteria! Really, Are We In a Swine Flu Epidemic?

By SMW Staff

piggyIt’s a new condition, first spotted earlier in the decade with the advent of the SARS Virus and of course Hong Kong Bird Flu.

But with the media’s hysterical reaction to a new outbreak – this time Swine Flu – it’s safe to say that “flusteria” is officially a new condition. This particular outbreak has been traced back to cable news networks, where never sleep newsrooms see the combination of “mysterious origins, imminent danger, and public anxiety” as an unbeatable ratings cocktail.

Outside of a handful of human deaths the big losers in this round of flusteria have been the poor swine. When I last checked the Egyptian government had ordered 35,000 pigs for liquidation.  China and many other countries have targeted the hapless pigs for similar fates prompting the World Health Organization to drop the nom de disease, swine flu, for the less poetic name of simple H1N1. They apologetically acknowledged that they had no evidence of this latest outbreak being spread by love of pork chops, just good old fashion human to human contact. Gesundheit!

It was around that point last when the media started to lose interest. Letters and numbers don’t have the same sense of ratings romance as a pig with an infectious disease. The disease obliged the media, at first anyway, with its rapid spread. One day showing up in the US, the next in Norway, hoping over to the Middle East, and seemingly making it around the world, if you consider the Northern Hemisphere to be the entire globe.

But then cracks started to appear in the story starting with Mexico, ground zero for Flusteria 2009. At first Mexico had announced that four hundred were infected and 170 had died from the disease. That percentage is indeed scary. But within a couple of days when a school in New York City reported 20 cases and no deaths, followed by other outbreaks with no fatalities, the story, like other storms generated with massive amounts of hot air, simply began to blow itself out.

Mexico, where the average citizen has now been sporting a surgical mask for the last ten days, either had a strain of the flu mixed in with a deadly potion from an evil Vera Cruz wizard, or someone was way off with their numbers. Well, guess what? It wasn’t the wicked wizard of Vera Cruz, just a health department with an inaccurate tally of deaths. At last report the 170 deaths was down to a dozen, and the number of certified cases was falling rapidly as well.

Of course those bad numbers did not get the attention of new cases being found, never mind the fact that 99% of those cases came and went through their victims causing the usual discomfort that any run of the mill flu causes in its victims. Americans were still pouring into emergency rooms from Maine to Montana suffering with CNN suggested health issues. Meanwhile the Mexicans have been paying a heavy toll for having started this flusteria with a tremendous drop in tourism, businesses closed until the plaque had cleared, and even having their citizens quarantined when traveling abroad. It’s never good to cry “FIRE” in the movie theater of today’s global village, particularly within earshot of a CNN reporter.

Thanks to the flusteria, however, people have gotten some lessons about the deadly Spanish flu that in 1918 and 1919 caused millions of deaths. And it is possible that H1N1 may appear to die away, as the Spanish flu once did in the spring of 1917, only to return in eight months as a truly deadly pandemic.

If that happens, I’m sure that we’ll again be punished with 24-hour news coverage, I’m just not sure how many people will pay attention. And if that should happen, it would be a tragic consequence of a news-crazed media crying “FLUSTERIA!” one too many times.

My advice: Come this fall, get a flu shot, get some hand sanitizer, and think twice before you kiss a pig, either the four or two legged type.

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