Swine flu: nothing new
I hate pandemics. Not just because of the illnesses that they cause, but also because of the fear that ensues. It doesn’t help when organizations like WHO label them a “public health emergency”. Simply the word “emergency” seems to make people feel that they are in imminent danger.
The fact of the matter is, swine flu has been hopping from pigs to humans for decades, sometimes causing disease, sometimes not. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control, 76% of swine exhibitors at a 1988 county fair had antibodies in their bloodstream indicating a prior swine flu infection, even though the exhibitors showed no signs of illness. There was also an outbreak of swine flu among military recruits in Fort Dix, New Jersey in 1976, causing severe illness in 13 soldiers and one death. With this current swine flu outbreak, we simply don’t know what to expect. There’s been no reliable pattern. Some people have gotten mildly ill, and some have died. Some have probably been transiently infected and didn’t even notice.
But I don’t think we need to worry about this pandemic too much, because there’s one thing to keep in mind when news of a unique flu strain breaks: perspective. As of this writing, 80 people in Mexico have succumbed to swine flu. By comparison, the CDC estimates that 36,000 people in the United States die each year of influenza-related illnesses. And in spite of this, we in the medical community still have a hard time convincing people to get their flu shots. If you’re not afraid of influenza, then you shouldn’t be afraid of the swine flu. Even in the event that someone gets infected with swine flu, we have medications with demonstrated effectiveness against the strain that’s currently active.
So I’m not going to say that the swine flu is not a big deal. Anytime someone dies an untimely death, it’s a big deal. Anytime a lot of someones die from the same thing, it’s an even bigger deal. It’s unfortunate. It’s tragic. But it’s happened before, and it will happen again.