There is a lot of apocalyptic talk out there on the Net about the current swine flu crisis. Most of it is junk. If you are reading about swine flu from the usual doomsday email/internet sources, conspiracy theorists, or emails that contain capital letters that read ‘GET YOUR FOOD STORAGE IT IS THE END OF THE WORLD’, or from anyone who regularly sends you the latest on the current state of the ‘Endtimes,’ or points to prophecies predicting the this pandemic is “The one”. Toss it.
The best place to go for information is the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC is on this. They are gathering information from every state and most countries in the world in real time (Even China, which was slow to respond to SARS, as agreed they will be vigorously tracking this if it appears in China and share their information with the CDC). They have isolates from the virus and have top scientists working on it. Epidemiologists are tracking the disease in great detail and are using real computer models to predict its progress using the best mathematical models available that have proven themselves in previous epidemics. Vaccines are being considered and under design. So go there for current information. They have practical suggestions on how you should respond to the disease if you are a doctor, a school administrator, or a mother of small children worried about sending a child to day care. Don’t relay on rumor or misinformation on this one. This is important. The way to beat this epidemic is through accurate information and an informed response. The CDC will give you both. It tracks where there are current infections and what you need to know for your area.
Next, Don’t Panic. One of the worse things the virus can do may not be the sickness itself but people getting jittery and scared and inducing them to respond in inappropriate ways. For example, the news is reporting people are not eating pork because the disease has the word ‘swine’ in it. As we currently understand it, this disease arose as viral mutation in a flu strain in Mexico, likely in a single pig, at a single farm. It jumped to humans and spreads as a respiratory infection. You can’t get it from other pigs, nor can you get it from pork. You should be cooking your pork thoroughly for other reasons anyway, but by responding inappropriately you create economic consequences that can be bad especially in these economic hard times. It’s fairly important that people act reasonably and appropriately so this epidemic does not cascade into furthering the economic disaster. Again, read the CDC information. Thy will steer you right.
Why I’m not worried.
Comparisons are being made to the Spanish flu in which 20-100 million people worldwide died in 1918. The comparisons are appearing because like that strain, this one seems to hit young people harder than the typical populations that are usually more susceptible like infants and the elderly. This seems unlikely to be repeated if just because today we are positioned with much better information, on both local and global scales. The virus is being tracked worldwide, when a cluster appears, schools are closed, people are warned, the sick are treated with antivirals and local people are being told how to respond.
And we know how to break up an epidemic. We understand the epidemiology of epidemics better now than ever. For example for a virus to spread as an epidemic or pandemic (world-wide epidemic) it has to reach a critical number of infections in the population, and those infections have to be spread at a certain contact rate to turn into an epidemic. So we are living at a time when we have superb on-the-ground tracking of the disease, we have strategies in place that target epidemics right where it hurts, and we have better antivirals. The fact is, it’s a bad time to be a pandemic disease. We are on to you, we know what to do, and we are doing it. The best thing you can do is stay updated with information provided by the CDC. Do the appropriate things (like don’t travel to Mexico right now and see a doctor if you have flu symptoms), don’t give into rumor and the apocalyptic fear mongers who are always looking for another reason to buy a gun or more ammo. For some reason we as a people seem vulnerable to such voices of doom. This is a great time to be alive. We can do better than they did in 1918.
This is a crisis, but it’s unlikely to be your crisis. Bottom line stay informed, act appropriately, and don’t panic.