While driving grandson #2 to his Little League Baseball game last week, the subject of the Swine Flu came up. The 8 year old had already heard someone talking about this exotic sounding illness, and had heard it mentioned on the news broadcast on the car radio. He looked at me and asked what this business was all about.
"Could people die?" he asked seriously.
I was somewhat preoccupied with thinking about some other subject at the time. "Well, a few people have died in Mexico", I replied.
His reaction quickly brought me back to the moment "Mexico?" he said sharply. "We're right next to Mexico!"
I explained that Mexico was a long way from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but he was still visibly concerned. He asked a lot of questions. "Could we get it?" "Is there anything that can be done to keep from catching it?" "Would we die?" When I said I thought that a vaccine existed for that particular strain, he simply asked, "Is that a shot? I HATE shots!"
We rode on in silence for a couple of minutes or so. He looked straight ahead. Finally, with a very serious look on his young face, he flatly said, "I wish you hadn't told me about this."
Young Will's worries reflect a growing concern among the population as a whole. Swine Flu stories fill the cable news television channels. They are front page stories on every newspaper in the nation. At this writing, 7 people have died in Mexico from the malady and one little Mexican boy has perished from the illness in Texas. Each day the reported number of cases in the U.S. continues to rise. We all know that in a mobile society like ours, communicable illnesses can spread like wildfire. Naturally that causes concerns among reasonable people.
The stories from our neighbors to the south continue to raise concerns here. In Mexico City, schools are closed. Businesses are shutting down. 161 soccer matches have been played in totally empty stadiums. Attendance in the many Catholic churches is minimal, and those who do show up are wearing surgical masks, lighting candles, and saying prayers for an end to the outbreak. The World Health Organization has upgraded the status of the Swine Flu to a level 5, which is just short of a pandemic. Confirmed cases in the U.S. have reached 180 in 18 states as of last night. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public emergency. To make matters worse, our Vice President, Joe Biden, while being interviewed on NBC's Today Show flatly stated that he would certainly not want to fly on commercial aircraft or ride in subways. He suggested that he wasn't worried about someone sneezing in an open field, but he sure wouldn't want him or his family to be on a plane, train, or in a school room in this situation. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said that she was advising her family to "stay home".
This is the stuff from which panic ensues.
Do you think that it's time, perhaps, that we should all step back and take a deep breath (with or without a surgical mask) and think rationally about this situation.
The possibility of a world wide pandemic is a frightening thing. When I was a child in the 1950's our next door neighbors were an elderly couple who had no living children. I remember learning that their two daughters had both died in the great Influenza pandemic in 1918. That tragedy had killed over 20 million people worldwide, and more than 500,000 in the United States! The old black and white images from yellowing newspapers, give just a little insight into the panic that must have swept across our nation and the world. Could the Swine Flu have the same tragic results?
We know that anything is possible. With open border crossings across the southern U.S. people are free to come and go at will. Air travel can carry passengers (and any diseases they may be harboring) around the world in a matter of less than 24 hours. We also know that technology and medical care is far more advanced than anything that existed in the days of the last great pandemic.
Seemingly lost in the potential panic about a feared Swine Flu outbreak is the fact that 36,000 people die from the "regular" flu strains in America, EVERY YEAR!
Those of us who remember the days of the Gerald Ford presidency, can remember a Swine Flu concern in those days. There were numerous public service television announcements warning people about the coming disaster. Well, it just didn't happen. Most of us also remember the fear that swept the world in recent years about the Bird Flu. As one who yearly travelled through Hong Kong (which seemed to be ground zero for that flu strain) I had some real concerns about that disease. Many travellers wore masks and huge flocks of chickens were destroyed all over Asia. But alas, no pandemic of the Avian Virus.
There is certainly reason for caution regarding the "second coming" of the Swine Flu. The WHO is all over it. Our Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is working overtime in light of recent events, and pharmaceutical companies are cranking out vaccine doses. Furthermore, each of us can use prudence and good judgment, by observing simple good health procedures, like hand washing and covering our mouths and noses when we cough or sneeze. If you or someone in your family exhibit flu-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing, body aches, and high fever) seek medical help without delay.
Paranoia won't help a bit, but a little bit of common sense, and a strong faith in the one who knows all things, and controls all things can go a long way toward your peace of mind in a time of spreading panic.