Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here comes swine flu! Let's all panic!

Concern about the spread of swine flu is causing causing havoc with the nation's school system, as any school with a suspected case of the virus within its student body is shut down. It seems like another school is added to HISD's list of closed schools every few hours due to flu fears, while yesterday Fort Worth ISD shut down its entire district after a single middle school student was discovered to have the disease. This is especially problematic given that this week was supposed to be TAKS testing week.

Sporting events are being canceled.

People have stopped eating pork. Egypt has ordered that all of the pigs in its country be slaughtered. Many countries have stopped importing pork products from the United States and Mexico. Some countries, such as the UAE, have stopped importing pork altogether, regardless of origin. Never mind the fact that it is impossible to contract the virus from eating pork or that the so-called "swine flu" H1N1 virus actually contains genes from avian and human flus as well as pig flus.

There are demands, generally coming from the usual xenophobes, that the border with Mexico be closed, even though doing so would pose a huge logistical and economic nightmare and won't do any good now that the flu has reached the United States.

People are hoarding bottles of hand sanitizer. Anybody who sneezes is considered suspect, and the slightest sniffle is causing people to rush to, and overcrowd, emergency rooms.

And now our foot-in-mouth-prone Vice President is suggesting that people not fly on airplanes or be in other "confined spaces."

Hysteria, anyone?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be taking the current swine flu scare seriously. This is by all accounts a potentially lethal disease.

But there is a line between rational, prudent precaution and irrational overreaction, and I can't help but wonder if we've crossed that line.

I know that this disease is suspected to have claimed many lives in Mexico (although only a handful of deaths have been confirmed to have been caused by the virus), but it's important to note that, as of this evening, the cases presenting here in the US generally seem to be milder and nobody who contracted the flu in the United States has died as of yet. It's also important to note that the H1N1 virus appears to respond to anti-virals such as Tamiflu and Relenza. It doesn't hurt that ths virus is making its appearance in late spring, towards the end of flu season.

In other words, while there is reason for concern, there's no reason to panic. In fact, there's never a reason to panic; panicking never solves anything and only makes things worse.

Wash your hands often. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. If you feel sick, stay home.

Most importantly, stay calm.

UPDATE: Hysteria? More and more people seem to be agreeing with me.

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