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This Little Piggy April 27, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Economy, Health Care, Obama Administration, Politics, Public Health.
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Public Health officials in Valencia, Spain

Public Health officials in Valencia, Spain

I just got back from California.  I was at a family funeral, so it was difficult to see the news or know what was happening in the world because you’re so busy and distracted by everything else.  It was not until I was waiting for my flight to be called – as I sat watching CNN in the SanFrancisco airport on Saturday – that I learned of the latest terrible scourge rolling up from Mexico.

Swine Flu.

Let me digress for a moment and let you know that I have a positively full-blown phobia about the flu.  Ever since I read The Stand, by Stephen King, I have been convinced that the world will end by influenza.  The SARS and bird flu epidemics gave me anxiety attacks for weeks. 

Since I was not able to get more than bits and pieces of the reports, imagine my pounding heart and sweaty palms by the time I arrived back at home in Buffalo.  My husband groaned when I asked for details.  “There’s only been a handful of cases,” he sighed.  “Nobody here in the U.S. has died.  The news is just blowing it all out of proportion.”  I went to bed and rested easy – until yesterday morning, that is. 

I awoke to the news that the United States has declared a public health emergency and is moving 12 million doses of Tamiflu out of federal stockpiles.  The EU has asked its citizens to ban travel to the U.S. and Mexico.  And in Mexico, the hardest hit by the Swine Flu, 2000 residents have sickened and 146 people have died.  The United States currently has 40 confirmed cases. 

The government, to its credit, is warning the citizens of the symptoms of the Swine Flu and is encouraging people to seek treatment if they develop symptoms.  Apparently, Customs and Border Patrol agents will begin looking for symptoms at southern border crossings as well.  The response so far seems careful and measured.  What are not careful, however, are the breathless news reports everywhere you turn.  Our local news last night spent 10 minutes of a half-hour broadcast talking about the flu and if we were ready to do battle.  There are doctors showing up on the national morning talk shows to discuss the “possible pandemic” and the cable news shows are also leading Swine Flu. 

Its enough to make a paranoiac run to the ER.

And that’s the problem.  The hyper-vigilant, ever-present flu story has the potential to swell emergency rooms and clinics around the country with people like me.  Seriously, you wouldn’t know from watching the news that people are not dying en masse.  The media needs to show restraint when reporting these stories.  Is it important?  Yes.  Does it deserve the lead every hour of every news cast on every day?  No.  That’s how you incite a panic.

All I know is that if I eat a bad clam – I can’t be responsible for the consequences.