Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Swine flu is no reason to panic

Posted by sanityinjection on April 26, 2009

The media are all in a tizzy over the outbreak of a new form of swine flu. Centered in Mexico, cases have surfaced as far away as New Zealand. Governments are taking steps necessary to prevent a global flu pandemic.

However, there’s no need to panic. Most of what is happening right now is that public health authorities are erring on the side of caution – as they should. No one is really sure how easily this flu strain spreads, so they are treating it as if it were extremely virulent and not taking any chances.

The good news is that all signs are that this strain responds well to standard forms of treatment. Most of the people who have become sick are recovering normally,  just as you and I probably did the last time we had the flu.  As with any flu outbreak, those at greatest risk are young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy adults have very little to fear from this new flu virus.

But if it serves as a spur for us to take sensible precautions such as washing our hands more often, that’s not a bad thing, either.

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10 Responses to “Swine flu is no reason to panic”

  1. sanityinjection said

    Time Magazine’s Brian Walsh points out that overreacting can be dangerous, too:

    “Indeed, the greatest risk from a pandemic might not turn out to be from the swine flu virus itself – especially if it ends up being relatively mild – but what Osterholm calls “collateral damage” if governments respond to the emergency by instituting border controls and disrupting world trade. Not only would the global recession worsen – a 2008 World Bank report estimated that a severe pandemic could reduce the world’s GDP by 4.8% – but we depend on international trade now for countless necessities, from generic medicines to surgical gloves. The just-in-time production systems embraced by companies like Wal-Mart – where inventories are kept as low as possible to cut waste and boost profit – mean that we don’t have stockpiles of most things. Supply chains for food, medicines and even the coal that generates half our electricity are easily disruptable, with potentially catastrophic results. Though we’ll likely hear calls to close the border with Mexico, Osterholm points out that a key component used in artificial respirators comes from Mexico. “We are more vulnerable to a pandemic now than at any other time over the past 100 years,” he says. “We can’t depend on ourselves.” “

  2. sanityinjection said

    Salon.com reminds us of the Great Swine Flu Panic of 1976:

    http://www.salon.com/env/feature/2009/04/28/1976_swine_flu/

    To be fair, there is arguably more cause for concern now than there was then, and government officials are doing a much better job of taking precautions without starting a panic.

  3. sanityinjection said

    Reuters tell us that “The virus is not caught from eating pig meat products but several countries, led by Russia and China, banned U.S. pork imports.”

    Now, do you really think the Russians and Chinese are so stupid they don’t know the pork is safe? Or is it more likely they’re using this as political cover to try to force people to buy domestically produced meat instead, so that when this all blows over, their consumers will still be in the habit of buying domestic?

  4. Ms. D said

    One significant problem is that most people don’t know how to properly wash their hands. They take a dirty hand, turn on the faucet, wash, then use a clean hand to turn off the same faucet they touched with a dirty hand. The procedure is to wash with soap and warm water (for a minimum of 15 seconds), dry with a paper towel (have it ready, do not touch the paper towel knob), then use the paper towel to turn off the water and then to open the door. In addition, most people do not realize that hand sanitizer (or antibacterial gel) will not kill viruses so using it obsessively and thinking you have protection is false. Thank you for sharing the importance of handwashing.

  5. sanityinjection said

    This is the best article I have seen so far on the swine flu:

    http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-sci-swine-reality30-2009apr30,0,3606923.story

    It clarifies that the concern is the ease of transmission rather than the severity of infection. The real danger is that if we can’t nip this thing in the bud while it is relatively weak, over the next few months it could transform itself into something much more dangerous.

  6. sanityinjection said

    One more thing. Ms. D is incorrect: alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective against viruses, according to the CDC. Whether they actually “kill” the virus is debatable because viruses are not strictly “alive” to begin with, but they do inactivate the virus so that it cannot make you sick.

  7. Ms. D said

    Yes, if one knows about viruses, one knows that they must be deactivated, not killed, as they are not considered alive to begin with. Most people don’t know that, so they consider their demise to be the same as their death. Here is what the CDC states on their website: “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used if soap and water cannot be made available and are effective against multiple common disease agents (e.g., shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter ). However, they are ineffective against certain organisms (e.g., bacterial spores, Cryptosporidium, and certain viruses).” There is a lot of debate involving hand sanitizers, mainly because of its profit margin, but even the hand sanitizer companies themselves do not claim to kill viruses, and why wouldn’t they, if they actually do? There are a number of sources that indicate hand sanitizers (alcohol based or triclosan based) as being effective with viruses, but non-bias studies show that they are not.

  8. sanityinjection said

    Ms. D – I’m not a big fan of hand sanitizer myself, but if the CDC didn’t think it was effective against the flu virus, they wouldn’t be mounting a nationwide poster campaign advising people to use it to avoid catching the flu.

    Also, demise is the same as death.

  9. Ms. D said

    Personally, I’ve always been skeptical of “nationwide poster campaigns” especially when it comes to huge industries that makes tons of money. The CDC says that hand sanitizer is ineffective against “some” viruses, but then also launches a huge campaign for people to use it . . . hmmmm . . . something smells fishy (I mean piggie).

    Why aren’t they saying it directly, that handsanitizer IS effective against the swine flu? The CDC’s left hand is saying that the swine flu is serious and hand sanitizer is a good way to stay clean, the right hand is saying that hand sanitizer is ineffective against certain viruses (but not being specific).

    The same goes for the Hand Sanitizer Industry. Their right hand says “Use lots of hand sanitizer to stay safe” and their left hand says “We make no claims that hand sanitizer is effective against viruses.”

    Here’s a perfect example found on http://www.purell.com, from the handsanitizer folks themselves: “While no hand sanitizer is indicated to prevent Swine Flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the ways you can help protect yourself from Swine Flu is by practicing good hand hygiene” which then leads into a commercial for hand sanitizer. An innocent consumer may then jump to the conclusion that HAND SANITIZER = SWINE FLU DEATH.

    The CDC advising people to use hand sanitizer during the swine flu outbreak may actually be a 2 fold campaign to increase the use of hand sanitizer (which is effective for bacteria and can be part of the total “hand hygiene” package, even if it is unrelated to the swine flu) and to calm people’s fears by giving them something (a tool) that they can use to stay clean (and so what if they also think they are “killing” the virus, right? Works for Purell!).

    Also, (I just love alsos), the second definition of ‘demise’ is the following: “The end of existence or activity; termination.” I think we can both agree that applies to viruses 🙂

  10. sanityinjection said

    Ms. D – I appreciate your knowledge in this area. Maybe “Sanity Injection” is a little biased when it comes to something called “Sanitizer” 🙂 With the additional info you provided, I think you are correct.

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