Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Flu

Well, the media is doing its best to turn the flu situation into a panic. I guess that's what happens when the news is a form of entertainment. You've got to get the suckers into the tent. Nothing seems to sell quite like fear, and the news outlets specialize in it. On the national level it's things like fear of another 9/11, fear of another Great Depression, and now fear of another flu pandemic. On the local level, it's fear of crime, and fear that the damned flu will come to our town. Listen to these folks and you'd be afraid to step out of your house or apartment. Watch them enough, and agoraphobia just plain makes good sense.

Let's look at the facts. Sixty people have died of this flu in Mexico. But who were these people. If they were already weak and ill, that's unfortunate, but it's no cause for alarm. People in such a condition die of many diseases that are no more than an annoyance to the healthy. Sure a newborn has died in the US, but what kind of shape was that newborn in? What we do know for sure is that the cases in the US have been mild. I read a question-and-answer session on the Boing Boing site with a so-called science writer. One of the questions asked why those people died in Mexico while the flu has been mild in the US. The reply was, "Baby, if I could answer that, my pay grade would be a LOT higher." Well, baby, I guess we know why you're doing journalism instead of epidemiological research. You can't friggin' think straight. The fact is that we don't know that the flu hasn't been just as mild in Mexico because we have no real idea just how many people have caught it there. What if it's a million, or five million, or more, and those sixty were among the most vulnerable of that number? Suddenly those sixty look almost like bad luck, not evidence of virulence.

What say we assume the worst though. What if this strain of the flu really does turn out to be virulent; what can we expect? In the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, 28% of Canadians and Americans contracted the disease. Worldwide 2.5% died. That means that something like seven out of every thousand Americans died of that flu. Now, that's nothing to laugh at, but I'd always gotten the impression that people were dying left and right from that infection. Seven out of a thousand means that there were a lot of people who didn't know anyone who died of the flu. And we have to remember. This was before we had the public health system we have now, and before we had antibiotics to treat the secondary infections, like pneumonia, that the flu caused.

I'm not saying that this emerging strain of the flu is nothing to worry about. It's something that should be studied and watched. However, we need to have some perspective, especially given the way the usual right-wing assholes are trying to use it to gin up xenophobia. One-time Fox News hack Michelle Malkin, and hate-radio jock Michael Savage have already started blaming illegal immigration for the spread of the flu. Their argument is basically, that's what we get for letting those illegal Mexicans into our country. What patent bullshit. If you want to play the blame game, try the American-owned pig farms in Mexico. The conditions in those places, where the pigs are all crammed together and wallowing in each others' shit, couldn't be better for creating new strains of the swine flu.

Keep yourselves informed, folks. That's what I'm going to do, but don't fall for the media panic. It'll just make you stupid.


Blogger David Matthews said...

Nice summation of the situation.

11:27 PM  

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