Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The Internet is, as many of you have experienced, a study in contrasts. On one hand, the near instantaneous availability of current news and information is almost incomprehensible. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that information is anymore valid then what your crazy neighbor down the street has to say.

The H1N1 virus quickly replaced the H5N1 virus (avian flu) as the most likely strain to create a pandemic. Outbreaks of H1N1 began populating the news and Internet sites. The initial reports were the H1N1 or swine flu was much milder than the avian flu variant. The H1N1 variant persisted and started to show up in Mexico. The next development was the reports of deaths associated with the H1N1 virus. Deaths were expected to be high with H5N1 but for some reason deaths associated to the swine flu were news worthy. I say this because the common flu causes death in the United States every year as well but somehow this new variant became more newsworthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, the number of deaths related to H1N1 thus far is 477. In comparison, the number of deaths from the annual flu is 36,000 per year in the United States. Health officials are worried that the H1N1 may become even more lethal since initially there weren’t any vaccines available to fight it.

In the next act of this psychodrama is the vaccines would become available in the fall. All children and those with compromised immune systems should get vaccinated. Now reports are that only 120 million doses are available, far short of the estimated 160 million doses needed (source: CNN Health.com).

Oh and by the way, you should also get your regular flu shot as well. There is an increasing backlash by Americans against getting immunizations. On any given day, there is usually one report about a parent refusing to get their child inoculated. Now on top of the regular regimen of childhood inoculations, parents are being asked to get one more.

The information on this topic is mind numbing and at times contradictory. The H1N1 first appeared to be less severe than the annual flu but now there is a rush to get everyone vaccinated. Normal preventive measures such as hand washing seem to be ineffective at preventing the spread of the virus. Here in Ohio at least one death resulting from the virus could not find that the victim had travelled outside the US nor come into contact with anyone that had.

All of this comes amidst the Obama administration’s health care plans. Tempers run high on both sides of the issue. Supporters of the health care plan think there is another evil conspiracy. Those opposed think the health care plan reeks of socialism. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. However, the emotions from the health care argument are preventing a more rational discussion as to the threat posed by H1N1. How much should the average, health American be concerned about this new strain? How will work and school be affected should there be an outbreak?

If not handled properly, this could lead to a serious panic with people trying to stockpile or steal the vaccines. Chaos and pandemonium could result shutting down businesses and schools even though the virus isn’t present. Hopefully, some clear heads will be able to be heard over the din of what now passes for intellectual discourse.

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