Apr 282009
Authors: Brian Lancaster

Oh my God! Everyone run for cover! The end of the world is coming, and it is – as predicted – coming from Mexico!

Let me tell you folks, up until last weekend, I had heard literally nothing about the swine flu. Maybe I was just unobservant for the past week that this has been a big deal, but it just didn’t register on my “world-wide disaster” radar.

And then, on Sunday, it exploded. My Twitter page was filled with tweets about the swine flu, my Google reader wouldn’t shut up about it and my Facebook had a few messages about the swine flu in certain peoples’ statuses.

So I started to do the research. Swine flu originated in Mexico about a week ago, with somewhere over 149 people dead, over 1,600 people infected in Mexico alone and over 40 reported cases in the United States, according to a Reuters article titled “U.S. swine flu cases rise, more expected” printed Tuesday. Holy cow, that’s crazy, and spreading quickly.

Whoa. Wait a second. This sounds a lot like that Avian flu thing that was going around a while ago. Not in terms of symptoms or description, but simply the “oh my God, we’re all going to die” panic that ensued.

So, loyal readers, I did what any good columnist would do: I dug deeper. These are the statistics that I could find, as of Tuesday, mostly from the World Health Organization Web site.

The swine influenza breakout has moved the WHO pandemic alert to a level of four. This means that there are recorded and proven cases of sustained human to human transmission. It also means that a pandemic is more likely but is not a certainty.

“Swine Influenza — update four” from the WHO Web site states that 64 people in the U.S. have been confirmed as infected with the virus. Mexico has 26 confirmed cases, seven of them fatal, and Canada has six confirmed cases.

Wait a minute, weren’t there just reported to be more than 149 confirmed deaths?

You see, this is why I always go straight to an authority for all my news. Apparently, it depends on which news source you go to when you want to find out about swine flu statistics.

But the World Health Organization states that there have only been seven deaths so far due to the swine influenza. Reuters reports over 149. Where does Reuters get these statistics?

It was also emphasized by the director general of the WHO that international travel will be advised to not be shut down, and — I know this was the next question on your mind — there is no risk of catching this influenza because of bacon or other well-cooked pork-related products.

Oh yeah, and just so you know, it can be treated.

So why are there so many different statistics for this particular outbreak, and why are they all worse than the statistics reported by the WHO?

Because the media loves a good panic. It makes good news. And, for the most part, people won’t think to double-check facts before going out of their minds.

Am I saying that we shouldn’t be worried, or we shouldn’t be careful? Absolutely not. There’s still an outbreak of a virus, and it has killed people. Wash your hands, be clean, drink fluids and go see a doctor if flu symptoms arise.

But to put it into perspective, the last outbreak of this nature that I remember was the Avian flu. 421 confirmed cases, 257 deaths. I know it seems macabre, but on a world scale, for the amount of panic that ensued, those numbers are ridiculously small.

So everyone, carry out business as usual and recall with me the great words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic.

Brian Lancaster is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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