Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fun with pandemics

Today's big news sounds pretty spooky: The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic alert level to 5 on its 6-level scale. What does this mean? That the swine flu outbreak that started in Mexico is nearing widespread human infection.

Is it the end of the world? No. But should we be concerned and do whatever it takes to protect ourselves? Absolutely. The key, frankly, is balance and knowledge.

I've already discussed this at length in an earlier blog entry, so I won't belabor the point. But the more coverage of this huge and continually breaking story in both conventional and social media, the more disappointed I become at the tendency for professionals and non-pros alike to descend into hyperbole.

So, long story short: take the time to educate yourself as best you can. Go to the WHO web site, talk to people in the field and to people you trust. And try to filter out those voices that are doing their darndest to garner attention by spreading panic.

To wit, the local radio so-called-newscaster may like the sound of his voice as he repeats each line ever more deliberately to ensure the great unwashed appreciate his every syllable. But when listeners are finished having the bejeebers scared out of them, I hope they'll seek guidance from more rational sources.

Your turn: Where are you turning to to learn more about this? What comes to mind as you watch the news?

9 comments:

All This Trouble... said...

I'm still with you on this one, Carmi. I'm a nurse at an elementary school so, of course, we've been told that it is all about prevention and surveillance at this time. Alert and panic are too different animals. I have a link to the CDC site on my blog and that has the most reliable info out there.

Stay well and cover your coughs!

Breeze said...

I just received a "Swine Influenze Public Update #1 from the Middlesex-London Health Unit. On the ball or what? It came home from school with my younger daughter.

Education and common sense...sounds good to me!

Breeze

Anonymous said...

There is really no basis for WHO raising the pandemic level for swine flu to 5.

As a medical scientist and immunologist, I can tell you that the swine flu issue is the same as the SARS panic in that it was the same knee-jerk reaction and misleading the public that the government used to cover its butt.

Compared to the regular flu deaths each year, swine flue is nothing. In a few months, the virus will be forgotten with maybe a few thousand deaths if it is lucky. That may sound like a lot, but not really considering regular flu can take 500,000 lives in the world each year.

Stay the hell out of filthy living conditions in Mexico and elsewhere, practice common sense hygiene and you will be fine.

kenju said...

What comes to my mind is how the media may be making a mountain out of a mole hill. I think they are whipping up a frenzy that may not be necessary.

David said...

i sprayed Lysol on my keyboard before I clicked over here. I hope that helps

David said...

it sells newspapers (or it used to) now maybe it keeps us tuned in a little longer before we switch to reruns of Law and Order.

Anonymous said...

This is so stupid. People are treating this like the black plauge or something. There aren't even 200 cases yet. Thats not even .000001% of the population. I don't know why people are so freaked out about. The people i blame is the media. They keep on reporting it and scareing people. If they would stop reporting it so much people won't be freakin out. Thats just what i think.

sealaura said...

Hi Carmi,

I am about 2 hours from the Mexican border and I don't know why but I am not freaked out. I listen to the news on NPR and I watch the local news in the AM but that's it. I remember when SARs was going on and then it just fizzled. Like you I am not trying to say it is not a big deal because it is. But I do think that the media is ridiculous at times and using scare teasers to capitalize on more viewers/readers. This annoys me. I also hate that this flu has a nationality attached to it, because it brings the ugly out of some people just like SARs did. Anyway, I hope we get through this soon.
ciao.
L

willow said...

I have to say that I agree with everyone here! The media is hyping this to such an extent that people are actually wearing masks outside so that they don't catch H1N1 aka Swine flu'. Personally, I will be just washing my hands more often after touching things like debit and bank machines.