As we try to assimilate the news about the cough heard around the world, fear and panic seem to be spreading faster than a virus. As our economy continues to limp along after its painful plunge, the swine flu, tiny little germs that come from the makers of bacon and pork chops, serve as just another reminder of how little control we have.
The swine flu, or H1N1 influenza A, as it is now called in an attempt to dispel the myth that eating the aforementioned products will spread this disease, has killed 26 in Mexico out of 701 confirmed cases and one in the U.S. of the 286 confirmed cases reported (according to the Associated Press at press time). Mexico reported 2,498 “suspected” cases before the tally was halted.
To put these numbers in context, about 20,000 Americans die from flu-related illnesses each and every year. But now we are hearing the “pandemic” word in an attempt to link this outbreak to the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic that killed millions. The reality is, most Americans have already lived through a flu pandemic—casualties from the 1968 Hong Kong flu were only slightly higher than in an average year.
The CDC tells us that this new virus lacks the genes that made the 1918 pandemic strain so lethal. The virus may continue as is or eventually mutate into something that doesn’t produce symptoms. It is too early to make predictions, so let’s not go hog wild. Sorry.
Nevertheless, we are not completely helpless. If we apply common sense, as we should have done to avert the current economic crisis, we can lessen the flu’s impact. We know how it is spread and can take sensible precautions to diminish its affects.
For example, even though we love to show our love for each other in everyday socializing, I suggest that aloha might be shown with more restraint during flu season. You might want to replace that hug, kiss or handshake with something more remote, like a smile and a wave. With the world population and travel increasing, this “wave of the future” may become status quo behavior, even when we’re not in the bowels of flu season.
And if you are feeling ill, stay home if you can. Always cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue. You might also want to take alcohol gel and wipes with you wherever you go to swab doorknobs, shopping cart handles and other surfaces that the multitudes touch. And don’t use antibacterial products, but wash your hands religiously.
The president is right when he says that this outbreak warrants concern but not panic. And in the words of another pragmatic president, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear will not produce the results we need.
We are as likely to sustain perpetual economic growth as we are likely to overcome disease, death and taxes. But common sense, not hysteria, is the key.
If you really love someone, don’t give them your germs.