Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Swine flu PcP: Scare tactics abound

By Brian Benson

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The World Health Organization (WHO) no longer finds it appropriate to track cases of the swine influenza. In fact, WHO announced that it would stop actively documenting information about them months ago, in July. Oddly enough, it said nothing about the recent hysteria flu which has purportedly given thousands of school children time off.

When Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) caught attention in 2002, it was projected to kill thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of people. There were 774 confirmed deaths. Again, in 2004, when the avian influenza was reported in humans, media outlets tolled the same warning bell. It has killed 262 people over approximately five years. Now, swine flu is the latest chapter in socially induced hysteria. This is the third notable viral outbreak in very recent history to raise pandemic concerns.

In the past decade, WHO and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have batted 0.000 in accurately predicting these outcomes. Reasonable people are skeptical. Even the worst flu pandemic, in 1918, happened so long ago that the kinds of statistics are almost inapplicable to the present day. At the time, pathogenic theories of medicine had only been developed decades earlier and were poorly understood in the general population. This is especially evident when relatively few people attended institutions of higher learning and most people did not keep hand sanitizers in their back pockets.

To be fair, I imagine it is safe to assume the majority of people reading this either always were or at least currently are aware of the absurdity before them. It seems to be widely known that the seasonal flu kills some 36,000 people in the United States every year. This dwarfs the 429 deaths across 122 countries according to the latest and final report by WHO on the matter.

But I’m not here to plainly throw around numbers. The point is this: we have clearly not learned the lessons of history when our knees jerk to something that is demonstrably a non-threat, especially when we do so thrice in less than ten years’ time. The problem, though, is not the fear in the population. This wanes with the sales of end-times depicting front pages. The worst of it is more symbolic – that people expect or encourage policy change because of it.

Hundreds of primary and secondary schools have closed, costing townships millions in dollars. Colleges have quarantined students. Airports and immigration and customs agencies have managed to make an already embarrassingly inefficient system more cluttered. At this point, these kinds of measures do absolutely no long-term good and do plenty of short-term harm.

Did the schools actually think that by keeping a group of a few hundred children home for a week would halt an international pandemic already independently existing in over a hundred countries? Did they really believe that? Or were these schools simply reacting to the demands of upset parents that expect public entities to enforce these kinds of rules? I suspect the latter. For no good reason whatever, people have passed responsibilities off to boards of town officials, who will make these kinds of decisions even if for no reason other than to protect their own reputations.

One can imagine what it would look like if an angry mob of parents tore into the few people who thought the issue a non-crisis when the delicate innocence of school children is threatened by an unpleasant viral infection. Basically, officials do not want to take blame for things that can go wrong, so they will do as the people demand to later deflect accountability if need be, regardless of cost, regardless of rational warrant. So, it can be said that the problem with the panic is more representational than tangible.

So, I would like to say not to worry, but, as I said, I suspect most people already are not. Instead, I say be vocal about the dynamic of unduly concerned people emotionally blackmailing institutions to act hastily. It is critical our representatives work to benefit us for that sake alone, and not because they wish to play it safe.

That said, remember to wash your hands properly for fifteen to twenty seconds and to sneeze into your elbow – seriously, sneezing into your hands is absolutely repulsive. Stop doing that, all of you. You know who you are. If nothing else, you might prevent a few people from getting the sniffles, and you will make the people sitting next to you feel less terrified of the plague. 

Brian Benson is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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