The sciences have always interested me, particularly the medicinal sciences. I started out my college career with a major in Biology hoping to become a pediatrician. When I discovered I had to study plants as part of Biology I quickly switched my major to Biochemistry and there I remained. I was fully engaged in classes such as Virology, Immunology, Genetics, Biochem of Cancer, and my most favorite class of all, Epidemiology. I loved this class. It was 3 hours every Thursday and it was my favorite class that semester. The study of how a disease or outbreak started, what factors could have caused it, and what contained it, I loved it all. On my own time, I read the most widely known book among pop culture of Epidemiology nature- of course “The Hot Zone”, but others such as “The Coming Plague” by Laurie Garrett were my favorites. This topic was (and is) so fascinating to me. I told my Dad at one point during the time I was taking the course that I was going to work for the CDC and go to Africa to study Ebola. I think his answer to me was something along the lines of “No you will not.” I mean, really, what parent, wants their child to study Ebola of all things?! This is a virus that literally causes your organs to liquefy. Yuck. At the time I was mad at him for telling me how to live my life but now I see the wisdom (or least concern as a parent) now. : )
So now we have the “swine” flu and the potential for a pandemic. I see the craziness that is going on in the media and by government officials and I have to just shake my head. Can someone shake Joe Biden please or at least lock him up for the time being? Stay off of commercial airlines and subways? Are you joking? His comments sent waves through the airline industry and caused their stocks to tumble. The White House press secretary said he “misspoke” and “what he mean to say was…”. To quote one of my favorite SNL segments…”Really??!!” Panic from our public officials is not what we need right now.
Since the outbreak began, there has been a week of near constant media attention. When a health emergency was officially declared on April 19, the story of the outbreak spread quickly through news networks. Multiple news conferences were aired in the United States by government officials. By the next day, April 20, it was the main topic of discussion. The amount of media attention suggested a full-blown crisis, resulting in public fear. According to Mark Feldstein, a former correspondent for NBC, ABC and CNN, the reason for such extensive coverage is that "If you scare people, they'll tune in more." –from Wikipedia, May 1, 2009
Despite no evidence that the virus is present in pigs anywhere in the world, Egypt’s parliament called for the nation's 250,000 pigs to be killed immediately, a move that was called "scientifically unjustified". And it has already been said, multiple times, by the CDC and by WHO that cooking meat to 160 degrees will kill all bacteria and viruses, including this new strain of flu.
This strain of the influenza virus is a reassortment of multiple strains, including human influenza, avian influenza, and swine influenza. The typical flu vaccine does not vaccinate against this new strain. However, there are several antiviral drugs that are effective against this H1N1 strain. What is best of all is just want to do always to avoid being sick- not panicking and locking ourselves away from the world. I think people are panicked in part because of what they hear in the media and also in part because their being told no vaccine exists against it…which is true, but not as alarming as it sounds.
Do you know that over 30,000 people die from the flu during the “normal” flu season, but there’s not much media attention to that. WHO has stated that the majority of the people who have been infected with this new strain of H1N1 recover just fine. For some reason the flu has been more virulent in Mexico but not elsewhere. And in this day of instant news, we hear one day that 169 people have died in Mexico from this, today we hear that only 7 have died. Quite the difference. Reminder all of the hype from the “bird flu” several years ago? Similar media coverage…..
Someone at work mentioned to me that they actually love all of the coverage by the media on this. It’s something else to think about besides the economy or the Middle East. Which is true.
I still wish I had stayed on the path to work for the CDC or a similar type of organization. Maybe I will actively pursue something like that in the future. For now, I’ve ordered two new books on emerging diseases and the failure of our health care system to treat them. But, people, the swine flu is nothing to be worried about. Seriously.
And I’ll always second guess the media. : )