Tuesday, October 13, 2009

H1N1: Pandemic or Paranoia?

A few weeks ago, I woke up and noticed that my throat was scratchy. Assuming that maybe I smoked one too many cigarettes while shooting the shit with some friends the night before, I chugged some water and went on about my day. However, twenty minutes later I noticed it had gotten even worse, and I realized what was happening. A scratchy throat is always my first sign that I was coming down with a cold. While the never-ending sneezing, not being able to breathe, and swinging back and forth from uncontrollable shivering to pouring sweat suck, I knew this one was going to come with a whole new annoyance: people seeing I was sick and going on ad nauseam about the swine flu/H1N1.

H1N1 was first recorded in January 2009 in Mexico, and didn't reach the United States until late March. In a few months, the number of reported cases had surpassed that of Mexico, and every news outlet in the country was on top of it. The majority of the public was terrified, and it wasn't abnormal to see people walking around wearing surgical masks over their mouths and noses. Panic hit an all new high when the first death was reported, and people fearfully watched the news 24/7, waiting for new developments, carefully monitoring themselves for the onset of H1N1's symptoms: fever, sore throat, congestion, nausea, fatigue, diarrhea and lack of appetite. Hold on, aren't those the same symptoms as the regular flu that makes it rounds every Winter? Sure is, and what was usually cause for exasperation was suddenly cause for panic; but far be it from these news stations to give up that sudden ratings spike. So what is the difference between the H1N1 flu and the seasonal flu? In truth, about the same difference between a Ford Taurus and a Mercury Sable.

Thus far, there has been 55,774 known cases of H1N1 infection, of which 982 has been fatal. At first glance that's quite a large figure (I'm going to apologize right here if it seems like I'm trivializing these deaths, it's not my intention) but crunch the numbers on that. This deadly virus that has people living in fear has a mere 1.76% mortality rate. Still not convinced? The United States had it's first known case of H1N1 in March, so these 982 deaths are spread out over about an eight month period. Meanwhile, an April CNN article states that the regular flu has killed thousands since January (four months time), and that it averages about thirty-six thousand deaths a year. So, given 982 deaths in eight months, let's extrapolate to about 1,500 deaths a year from H1N1, and on average, you'll see that the regular flu we bitch and whine about every year will kill twenty-four times as many people as the dreaded H1N1.

This isn't the first time the media has blown something like this completely out of proportion. My grandmother is one of those who is scared to death of H1N1 and is extremely adamant about getting right in line when the vaccine comes out. Last time the conversation came up, I asked, "Remember SARS?" She didn't. And why should she, it didn't pose a semblance of a threat to the United States, yet in 2003, the media carried on like it was the Angel of Death merely biding its time before laying waste to the country. In truth, there was a grand total of eight cases of SARS in the States, all of them brought from visiting abroad, and no fatalities. Worldwide, the SARS "pandemic" resulted in less than eight hundred deaths. Same with Anthrax in the mail two years before that. A terrorist attack aimed at high ranking politicians left five dead and seventeen infected; noteworthy news indeed, however the stories came out that there would be letters sent to every mailbox in America. Once again, needless fear and panic ensues.

So thank you news teams for spreading terror throughout America over something that in no way warranted it. Well done getting millions to tune in and waste their time learning all about this irrelevant disease. It's not like we didn't have enough things to worry about without you springing the plague on the panicky masses.

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