Saturday, May 2, 2009


When I was a kid, my mother told me a fairy tale about a boy who cried "wolf!" I don't recall the details, but it seems the boy repeatedly pranked his fellow citizens with false alarms about an impending wolf attack. Eventually people figured out there was no wolf and started to ignore his cries. So when an actual wolf showed up and the boy screamed "No, REALLY this time!!" nobody paid any attention.

I don't remember who the wolf in the story ate (Little Red Riding Hood, maybe?) and I certainly wish no harm to a child. But if the boy is a metaphoric reference to today's community of infotainment tv talking heads and the wolf has swine flu, I kinda hope the wolf enjoys a satisfying meal.

Because I've had it to here with the siege of media-fueled swine -- make that, N1H1 -- flu hysteria. Near as I can tell from the relatively calm updates issued by assorted public health officials, there is a reasonable level of caution being applied to the situation, and if we all were to use the brains we were born with, we'd be appropriately alert but not pandemic-panic-stricken.

Reasonable and appropriate, however, do not garner attention on the endless stream of babble that has become the 24/7 news cycle. So instead we get frantic "developing story" and "breaking news" reports.

As I type the U.S. total is (earnestly concerned brow-furrow) 160 cases. Worldwide total is now - cue the graphics package - 658 cases in 16 countries.

Yes, 658 cases out of a global population of 6.76 billion. My calculator can't even compute what an infintessimal percentage of total that is.

There aren't even 658 people living in my two-square-mile neighborhood. If I tried to convince a journalist that 658 people using my employer's product represented a trend worth reporting about, I wouldn't even get a polite hearing, much less a breathless breaking news spot on the nightly newscast.

And while the 16 deaths reported thus far are no small matter to the families and friends who loved them, according to the Worldometers statistics site ( 23,000-some people around the world died today of something we pretty much already know how to prevent - hunger.

No special-report graphics for them. Nor for the 36,000 who die, on average, each year from the regular old non-newsworthy flu.

So let's have a little perspective, people. True, we don't know much about this virus. Yes, we know that in 1918, a new strain of flu had its way with a few people, went dormant for a time, then returned with a rampage that killed millions. Incidentally, one of them was my mother-in-law’s father, so trust me, I don’t take the possibility lightly.

But I think we’ve learned a few things about public health in the past 91 years. So if those who speak with reason and knowledge can be heard over the din of the flapping jaws at the news desk, if the worst happens I think we should be able to minimize the harm.

Unless by then, we’re so over the swine flu story, we don’t believe a word of it.

Meanwhile, I will wash my hands, sneeze into a tissue and ignore cable news. I suggest you do the same.


Patty said...

Linda: Loved reading your blog on the current hysteria. Also loved talking to my sister in San Antonio yesterday. She had just recovered from a 3-day bout with the flu, and hadn't even bothered to call her doctor ("He always says the same thing - rest, drink fluids, etc.") Meanwhile, panicked Texas school administrators are calling off classes. Wish they could be a cool as my sister! - Patty

Chris Ronan said...

Well said.

Kim and Patrick Bentrott said...

I couldn't agree more. On all fronts. From a medical perspective.

I'm not sure when "fear" became the primary form of entertainment in our human history... Seems there should be enough in our days to fill without buying worry for the next killer bee attack, Y2K end of civilization as we know it, bird and/or swine flu, or what have you.

Even the Haitians, who CERTAINLY have enough to worry about are asking non-stop questions about the piggy flu. They hype certainly makes it seem like we should be bunkering down with masks and lysol cans. Or maybe they are just bored with malaria, typhoid, HIV, TB, malnutrition, and intestinal worms. They ARE so yesterdays news, aren't they?

Emily said...

Great perspective, Linda.

I began to see the media coverage in a very different light when a got word from my inlaws: they live in Mexico City and dutifully stayed home or wore masks in those rare moments when they left. My mother-in-law reported that the city (of 26million) was handling the situation like a well oiled machine, doing just what needed to be done. That shed new light on the circumstances - it was the same thing that the media was reporting, but instead of it being dire freakish situation, my in-laws reported it as the best way to handle things. I much preferred that news to the scare tactics of infotainment.