Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Doctor Swinehart or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love H1N1

blah blah blah swine flu. blah blah blah we're all gonna die. Blah blah blah ahh-choo?

But seriously, I'm enthralled by this media spectacle for more reasons than I can count. And I can't say that I'm entirely immune to the overexposed and relentless over-the-top coverage of what may be yet another in a long line of influenza bugs that continuously sweep over the globe. The early spin on this media fastball was that this flu was more dangerous because... well, why exactly was that again? Dig even a little bit below the surface and you discover the gross exaggerations and outright lies that have been spread, maliciously or not, and eagerly accepted by your average fairly well informed human being. 24 hours a go I actually thought there was a chance that my days were numbered and that I might actually die from this thing. Then my dear wife helped me come to terms with my obvious hypochondria. It seems I've read too many sci-fi "End of Days" pulp novels.

In one such novel, Stephen King's The Stand, a horrific portrait of a flu pandemic is illustrated in the story's earliest chapters. The army has designed a 'super-flu' that is 99.99% communicable and incredibly lethal. The fear of disease is swiftly circumscribed by a government response, equal parts cover-up and violent suppression until things fall apart and the center doesn't hold. (See, although in a completely different context, even King knows you can't trust the media...) However the spread of the virus must have been researched very carefully because the recent strain of influenza has spread in an eerily similar manner. In the novel a few cases in Texas end up spreading first to NYC and California, popping up in isolated towns in the midwest before blanketing the country.

It is very obvious that the kind of latent fear of death and disease that makes this horror story so effective is the same one that has led the media to blow this thing up to elephantine proportions. News outlets offer us a service, at a price. The want us to follow current events, but most of all they want ratings. And people will tune in to this kind of story, at least for a while, because it is downright scary. It is frightening to think that in our modern age of superior health care, there are things that can sweep up over night and kill people. Never mind the fact that nobody outside of Mexico has died, and that those fatalities might be the result of extreme poverty. It is scary because it appears downright unstoppable. One can take all the proper precautions, but this might very well be one of those 'if you're gonna get it, you're gonna get it' phenomena. You know, the kind of flus that are out and about every year that kill people just as easily, but that everybody has seemingly forgot about.

I loathe disease. It creeps me out. I am a complete germophobe and am continuously washing my hands, spraying my work keyboard, mouse and phone, which cowrokers occassionally share, with disinfectant. I always get my flu-shots. Why is this? Because the flu is annoying as hell. Two weeks of feeling like shit? Where do i sign up? But I'm not going to go so far as to stockpile Tamiflu and bottled water (although I offhandedly suggested the very same to my wife the other night). Maybe I'm not entirely convinced as I thought.

What is stunning is the amount of misinformation out there that is greedily gobbled up and spewed out all over the place. The very name of this bug, for instance, is completely inaccurate. People aren't getting this from pigs. But that won't stop them from costing the pork industry millions of dollars in losses. Seriously people? You think you are going to get sick from eating bacon? Cooked bacon? More for me then. From what I've read the strain is a new combo of swine, avian, and human influenza that is passed from person to person exclusively. Many have hollered that it shouldn't be called swine flu at all, but perhaps 'novel' flu or as one wag has put it, 'media' flu.

The one good thing that I can see coming from this is that maybe, just maybe people will stop being quite so gross for the next few weeks. Masks here and there, sure. But hands being washed too. Coughs and sneezes being covered up. You know, like actual human beings. Funny how it sometimes takes a virus, something scientists aren't even sure to classify as alive or dead, to achieve this.

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At 4:26 AM , Blogger LNE said...

It's a good thing you have me around, man.

At 8:05 AM , Blogger Les Savy Ferd said...


At 9:31 AM , Blogger oline said...

my father's big observation when they last came to visit me was that no one in chicago covers their mouth when they cough. i think we're doomed. but, on the bright side, i'd rather our lives become a made-for-tv-movie starring molly ringwald and gary sinese than, say, a danielle steele.


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