Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Flu Effluvium

Read the headlines, and it’s enough to scare you. Associated Press: First New York City Swine Flu Death. Los Angeles Times: Sixth Death Linked To Swine Flu in US. ABC News: Younger Swine Flu Cases, Deaths Raise Questions. BBC: New Swine Flu Toll Nears 10,000. Reuters: Mexico Swine Flu Death Toll Rises to 56.

One thing the media are good at is scaring us. American media are usually long on scare, short on perspective. I’m not sure if anyone can put this Swine Flu thing into perspective, because the institutions which can, have an “axe to grind”.

The World Health Organization is openly concerned that “rich” nations will buy up all the Swine Flu vaccine when it’s created, leaving people in the “poor” nations to fend for themselves. The Centers for Disease Control is a voice of reason, but at its core it’s a political organization. So you need to have a bit of skepticism when you examine the information on their websites.

Wisconsin has a relatively large number of Swine Flu cases compared to other states of similar population, but that’s probably because our state’s health care officials are far better at detecting and testing for the H1N1 virus. And our state’s health officials are saying we won’t really know the impact of the virus until this fall.

I don’t know whether to be alarmed, and if so, at what level, because I can’t seem to find any reliable source that will put this problem into proportion, and that’s the key to knowing how to deal with it. The pictures I see on TV of children wearing masks is typical of American media coverage. They love the extremes.

How many times did you see those houses fall into Lake Delton last June on the local TV broadcasts? And again last week when one of the stations did a series on recovery. Another excuse to run that footage of houses falling into the lake, if you ask me. But like many other pieces of compelling video, they’ll beat it to death.

Years ago during the gun deer hunting season in Wisconsin, all the media would faithfully report the number of deer hunters who had heart attacks in the woods. Since nobody ever put it into perspective, you’d think the riskiest thing a middle-aged man could do in Wisconsin was go deer hunting. The number of middle-aged Wisconsin men having heart attacks during any given ten-day period was the same as during the deer hunt, but that’s not “scary”.

There were precious few of us in the media who bothered to make the comparison. Come to think of it, one heavy snowfall probably kills more middle-aged Wisconsin men than any deer hunt.

Is the H1N1 virus on a track to kill scores of us this fall, or is it just another flu bug not really unlike the ones that come ‘round every year? I don’t know, and I can’t seem to find out. The media are too busy scaring us to really look into it.

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