Tuesday, May 5, 2009


It's becoming more and more apparent that the fear mongering over the swine flu by major media outlets and to a lesser extent the White House, has had more to do with an epidemic of stupidity.

There is now a growing chorus coming to the realization that the danger swine flu represents has been grossly overblown, over hyped and over-exaggerated. And in Mexico where it all started they have lowered the alerts even though the number of cases have risen.

There is no evidence, nor has there ever been, that swine flu poses any real danger, that anyone is more likely to get it than any other kind of flu, is hard to treat, causes any lasting damage, or is any more a cause for concern than any other flu. In fact all the evidence is that so far it is less a worry than all currently known flu strains.

And Time Magazine on it's web site is reporting this:

"As a global network of flu experts began to take a good look at the genetic structure of the new H1N1 virus, there were also indications that the bug might turn out to be little more dangerous than an average flu. "

And added,"...Still, a little more than a week after the WHO first swung into high alert, it's easy to wonder whether H1N1 might turn out to be much ado about not that much"

Most people have no idea what the word "pandemic" really means. They hear it and it scares them. Which is just what the media wants so why bother to inform them of what the word really means? A pandemic simply means a disease, any disease that has gone from one country to another. As soon as cases of H1N1 showed up in the Unites States as well as Mexico, it was a pandemic. It has nothing to do with how many people have it, it has nothing to do with how many people health officials think can get it, it has nothing to do with how dangerous it is or isnt. it just means that there are cases in more than one country.

The needless hysteria, hype and worry surrounding swine flu has been created by politicians and a news media and their exaggerated hyperventilated news coverage, which obviously is to their own benefit since fear and worry drives people to news organizations for information. But it is clearly a needless exploitation of something that is not, as far as the current known facts make apparent, even a realistic concern. Which of course doesn't keep people from going nuts, or, like in the case of Egypt, killing all of the country's pigs.

Just to put it in perpsective, last year 36,000 Americans died from conventional, known strains of flu or complications related to known strains of flu. Think of it -- 36,000 in the US alone. Compare that with 900 cases (according to the latest figures) of swine flu world wide. That is an epidemic?

To date there have been two reported deaths from swine flu ( and I emphasize the word reported), compared to the 36,000 deaths in the US alone from conventional or known strains of flu and there has been no reporting as to whether those deaths were directly related to the swine flu. Even if they were, in terms of numbers they are beyond infinitesimal compared to known strains of flu.

Politically and as a matter of public health and information, Obama has not helped. In his own way he has helped feed the hysteria by doing what he thinks should be done politically but he is making the fears unnecessarily worse. This is something Obama has done too often in his political career -- pander to momentary sentiment or do what he thinks is the most politically expedient thing to do or say regardless of what's real or what's needed.

On Sunday Obama put out a statement in his name that said,"The White House is acting aggressively to combat H1N1".

The courageous thing to do in this situation, the honest thing and the most helpful thing, would be to stand up and tell the truth -- that while this form of flu is nothing anyone wants to spend a weekend with, this is not more dangerous than any other kind of flu, and so far it looks a lot less dangerous than conventional flu or other illnesses. And the outbreak in terms of numbers both in the U.S. and world wide are microscopic compared to other illnesses. Contracting it is rare and even if you do the consequences are generally minor. It is not fatal. It is not dangerous. It will not make your eyeballs fall out. It has no lasting consequences and people who have gotten it were treated conventionally and are recovering nicely with no lasting effects. And every available statistic backs that up.

Instead we get Obama using words like "combat", the CDC using the words "war against" and the news media milking it for all its worth to get ratings and anything else that will make a buck.
It has gotten so utterly stupid, CNN did a major news piece on Sunday called "Inside the H1N1 War Room". War Room? Are they kidding? No, their PR department isn't kidding.

While it makes sense for the government to be prepared, to always error on the side of caution, and to be sure there are enough stockpiles of tamiflu to handle any need, the news media and the White House has turned this into an epidemic of stupidity and fear mongering, worrying people for no good reason.

When Obama said it was "cause for concern but not panic" that was an incredibly unhelpful statement because it was not true. The correct statement should have been, "It is not now a cause for concern, but if it becomes one we will certainly let you know".

Swine flu is hardly an epidemic as the numbers show, and its hardly serious even if someone contracted it based on all the presently known medical evidence. There are many, many times more people dying every day from malaria ( thousands) than people who have even contracted swine flu and yet not a word about that from the news media.

Only yesterday Napolitano, head of Homeland Security made the statement that H1N1 is "no worse than ordinary flu". She could have said that more than a week ago.

Six months from now, if nothing dramatically changes, people will look back at the actions by the media and by government leaders and shake their heads. The big danger in all this overheated hype is that one of these days something truly dangerous to public health might come along and people might shrug off warnings as being nothing more than another case of media hyped swine flu.


sue said...

Marc- thanks- fabulous summary of this latest over-blown, over-hyped non-story story..
I think it came to the administration rather serendipitiously and as Rahm reminded us- never let a good crisis go to waste-
which is exactly what the media and the administration did, capitalized on fear. I understand the media because they need ratings, viewers, etc.
But the POTUS should have said it wasn't cause for concern- and of course- someone should put a muzzle on Biden- although his lack of frontal-lobe inhibition- which leads to his outrageous honesty- is rather refreshing- stupid but refreshing.
Thanks for a great piece

ainnj said...

My very favorite player in this is the head of WHO. Her "this will affect all of humanity" quote was the topper for me. It reminds me of the days when Ridge kept raising the color coded alerts and finally said to be prepared for bioterrorism we need to get duct tape and plastic for our windows. At that moment reality sets in I think for everyone previously frightened. These type of statements are so absurd that it gives everyone a moment to pause and realize, this is a lot of hype. Biden's typical foot in mouth remarks really proved just how ridiculous this whole thing has become. The story immediately came off the front pages and top banners of online news pages.

antifish said...

Marc, I agree, but hold the Obama-obsessed media equally culpable in perpetuating this "epidemic". In their zeal to out-slobber each other over all things Obama, they've provided the perfect vehicle for this administration to propagandize any issue it cares to exploit.

Anonymous said...

ainnj - I agree that quote by the head of WHO was likely the most outrageously irresponsible of all that's been said by anyone about this virus.

General comments:

I agree that the media absolutely exploited this for the obvious almighty dollar reasons.

I also feel that hindsight is 20/20. Coming on the heels of SARS while not understanding what was going on during the initial days, including a virus that appeared to be a unique mutation (animal and human) many federal and world agencies were rightfully watchful. And, it turns out that Mexico has had a lot of unusual flu acitivity this past flu season. In addition, I think some of those with an eye on history also knew that the 1918 flu emerged in the spring without too much event, only to come back incredibly strong in the fall (something that could happen with this virus, though thankfully we have medicine to combat it that was not available 100 years ago).

As someone who's worked in health care, I think it can be very difficult when it comes to making certain calls. If you remain silent and/or underestimate something that turns out to be significant, you get slammed. On the other hand, if you err on the side of caution and it turns out to be less than you feared, you get slammed as well. I think the media have been terrible. And, WHO seems to have made some statements that will hopefully prove to have been significantly overblown. But, they've also taken hits for the opposite, so, as I said, I think it's very, very hard.

What I wish would come out of all of this would be some serious media coverage about how many people die of the flu every year and how many people (likely including many this past week who have been in a panic about this flu) don't get flu shots. That would be a great public education moment. But, I doubt it will happen.

Anonymous said...

I would add:

And it would have been nice if we weren't just swearing in the Sec'y of HHS at this same juncture.

And, shouldn't we have a Surgeon General. That would have been a good person to hear from, an actual MD, instead of the Department of Homeland Security for God sakes.

A permanent Director of the CDC would also be nice.

Geez, for a president who's so hot on health care, we're lacking some important posts.

Anonymous said...

antifish - Great point!

Anonymous said...

Damn, I thought we were all gonna die so I maxed out my credit cards.

Now I'm screwed.

Masha said...

The real question is; Is she qualified? The answer is YES. Enough said.

Masha said...

My comment was meant for the Sotomayor piece.