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821 views 2 commentsupdate:May 6, 2009

Blog: Flu deja vu

We have a new flu case! Hurray, that is big news and for some an opportunity to make a lot of money. Since the beginning of the swine flu or as it is called now, the Mexican flu, we have seen many people panicking and talking about the danger of a new pandemic.

TV and radio commentators, as always, immediately made comparisons with the Spanish flu, which tortured the world a century ago with the death of more than 50 million people, to scare the listener. Did they not do that also at the time the poultry industry was hit by the bird flu? It looks like that virus still is more dangerous than the virus found now. Many specialists, however, like to keep the story going so they can be seen in the media and generate extra public money for their research.

Unfortunately, most of my colleagues from the public media like to follow the hype, or make one, so they attract the attention. Where has the responsible and respected researcher, politician and researcher gone, who talks about the chance of a pandemic when there is a real threat? Let us keep things in the right perspective. The number of casualties from the Mexican flu worldwide is probably less than the number of death caused by the regular flu in a medium-sized city anywhere in the world over the same number of weeks. Alright, we should not underestimate the capabilities of the virus, but influenza specialists should demonstrate better that they have faith in their knowledge and competence to deal with the issues instead of fuelling the scare.

Both the bird flu and swine flu have taught us that there is no reason for immediate panic when discovering a new influenza virus. Researchers, public health specialists and media should question themselves now what to do when the next influenza outbreak crops up. Creating a new panic, which again proves to be a flaw, may make people unconcerned and consequently respond wrongly when there is a real threat in the future.

2 comments

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    Francisco Rios

    Hello, Wiebe!
    It is so nice to read really insightful comments about a situation that has caused a nulification of the tourism trade in a country known for its tourist attractions!
    For starters, this is not known as swine influenza in Mexico, it is called AI type A H1N1, which is its real name (so far the Mexican media is the only one in the world that uses this name). So far, it is still unknown where it came from, the USA or Mexico, so to call it Mexican flu is quite unfair. As you mention, there are at least 250,000 deaths attributed to seasonal flu every, year. So far, we less than 60 in the entire world. the Mexican government virutally closed the entire country for 3 days, to stop the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, no one seemed to notice. It is still a source of uneasiness the fact that this virus seems to behave the same way as the "Spanish flu" (another unfair name), in the fact that the flu cases started to appear in the spring, later they kind of died down, and in the fall they circled the globe. However, we expect to have a vaccine by that time, and there is no trench war where the virus could spread so easily, as it happened then.
    Another comment. So far the pork meat prices have plummeted in Mexico, regardless of the change of the virus name. There must be a communication to the media for virtually extracting the idea that pork meat is a cause of danger. We should remember the damage caused by the Flu-scare 5 years ago.

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    Sarki Bashari

    That, exactly is the point; Too much scare over trivial issues will lower people's guard when the real one comes.

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