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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

A little panic

Today's quiz: How many people die in the United States each year from flu and flu-related causes? Answer later.

Remember the bird flu panic of just a few years ago? It was front-page and top-of-the-broadcast news for weeks, and I remember we did a few editorials about it. By the time 100 people had died overseas, newscasters here were in full "It's coming, and we're all going to die!" mode, and there was even an End-of-Days-like made-for-TV movie. Remember everybody's certainty that there wouldn't be enough vaccine? We all remember now, of course, how many millions of people died from that pandemic.

Now, we have the swine flu scare, and the tenative little panic feelers are being put out by people who probably should have learned better by now:

Airlines shares fell Monday as fear mounted that the swine-flu outbreak that started in Mexico could spread globally and lead to a sharp drop in air travel at a time when carriers already are struggling to cope with recession.

Governments around the world are seeking to contain the spread of the virus after outbreaks in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S., where 20 people are confirmed to have caught the virus, a public health emergency has been declared.

[. . .]

As with SARS, the panic over swine flu is happening at the very bottom of a sharp recession, so its impact could be felt more harshly, said Diogenis Papiomytis, consultant in the commercial and business aviation practice of Frost & Sullivan.

"It's the worst possible time for such a crisis," said Papiomytis, adding that the SARS outbreak postponed recovery in 2003.

But it's not exactly a crisis yet, unless we talk ourselves into having one. The strain found in the U.S. seems (so far) to be a mild form of the flu not likely to kill anybody.

The answer to the quiz, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is about 36,000 a year. That's a hell of a lot of deaths -- flu may be the most underpublicized killer in the country. It does its dirty work partly for reasons we can't control -- it tends to pick off the old and infirm -- and partly for reasons we can, like neglecting to wash our hands frequently and our disinclination to stop French-kissing those who are hacking and spewing phlegm in our faces.

So maybe a little panic is a good thing, as long as we don't overdo it. We need to be just afraid enough to do the common-sense things but not enough to be paralyzed by it. The alternative -- just ignore the whole thing and hope it goes away -- would represent bad private judgment and poor public policy.


Bob G.
Mon, 04/27/2009 - 1:05pm

We're on the same page again today...must be "clairvoyance".
(I think I went to school with her)

If I were a REAL cynic (instead of a 56 year old neophyte), I'd say that the FLU is nature's way of "culling the herd" (unlike homicide, terrorist bombings, and auto accidents)

The Spanish flu of 1918 offed about FIFTY MILLION PEOPLE...nothing has come close since as far as influenza is concered...
See? We DID learn from that one.

I'd say it's FINE (and perfectly NORMAL) to practice CAUTION, but outright panic?
Nah...that's a little extreme, even in times such as these.
Now, if you said Gas cost $52 bucks a GALLON...THEN we SHOULD panic.
(and as quickly as possible, too)


tim zank
Mon, 04/27/2009 - 1:14pm

After hearing The Algore testify last week, it's safe to say the flu will never develop fast enough to kill us before the planet implodes, so don't worry about it.

The only way the flu is gonna kill us first is if Cheney calls Halliburton and speeds it up using black-ops helicopters to drop infected 3rd world children from the sky over our suburbs. I'll check KOS later and see if that story is still developing.

tim zank
Mon, 04/27/2009 - 4:06pm

Also seems like it'll be a lot easier to ram government run health care down our collective throats when there's a crisis "loomimg". Ya know, like the 50 cases in the US. (out of 300 million people) Now that's a pandemic.

Thank God, oops, I mean thank Obama that our government is on top of this. Director of Homeland Security Janet "Oh Sh%t, Did I Say That?" Napolitano has it well under control.

I'm serious, the director of homeland security has had 2 news conferences today.....about the frickin' flu....affecting a couple hundred people in the entire world.

Like Rahm sez: Never waste a good crisis, eh?

Mon, 04/27/2009 - 5:34pm

What is needed here is a conspiratorial mindset. Coincidental with the MSM flood of news speculating about a swine flu pandemic, comes word from Fort Meade (the same lab which in the recent past brought us the anthrax scare) that a quantity of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis virus was missing from its inventory.

The MSM is tight-lipped about the possibility of a human-caused pandemic, and the CDC flat-out pooh-poohed the idea. Hmmm . . not even Leo mentioned the coincidence.

Bob G.
Mon, 04/27/2009 - 6:08pm

I alluded to such a "possibility" on my blog...

(But then again, I never said ANY of it, and was never here.)

Don't worry, Leo...your job is safe.


Michael B-P
Wed, 04/29/2009 - 12:14am

Within the same day as the announcement of the outbreak in Mexico, Lou Dobbs was beating the "pandemic" drum at the very start of his show in order to get the freakout jam well under way. I simply do not understand how the hyperdilated sphincters on these shows can continue to look themselves in the mirror each day without seeing the fat snicker on a face who panders to the most gullible. Oh, wait, another sphincter just informed me that the average audience IQ is 98.