The sky is falling…not

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

‘The sky is falling, the sky is falling’ – Chicken Little

As children start returning to school in August and September, the ABCs may be replaced by the H1N1s, if the onslaught of news regarding flu season continues. There is no doubt that the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wants the country to be ready and able to minimize the consequences of the impending influenza outbreak.

Presently, the new flu vaccines are being tested in humans to assure their safety, but a national immunization program will likely not be available when the first cases of the “swine” flu start appearing. And with schools opening soon, the potential for illness spreading through classrooms and communities is a virtual certainty.

The CDC has issued guidelines that do not recommend wholesale school closures. Instead, common sense prevails.
• Good hand washing and coughing etiquette are the first line of defense to prevent the spread of the virus.
• Parents should keep kids home if they are ill and allow them to return to school 24 hours after a fever subsides.
• Schools should have a room to keep a child comfortable and isolated until the parents can come.
• Schools should not close unless there are high numbers of kids who are ill.

But common sense gives way to potential hysteria when a profit looms for mass marketers. Internet survival kits include special faces masks, nonperishable food and bottled water. Alternative medications and food additives are being pushed to fight viral infections. All this because there is a potential that the flu season this year may affect two or three times as many people than normal.

In a “normal” year, 20 million people will get flu-like symptoms, 200,000 people will be hospitalized and 36,000 people will die (http://www.cdc.gov/media/transcripts/2009/t090724.htm). Consider some other public health statistics where we accept similar numbers without panic and our behavior doesn’t change.
• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2008 there were 5.8 million car crashes causing 2.3 million injuries and more than 37,000 deaths.
• In 2007, the CDC estimated that more than 19% of the US population were smokers and 8.6 million people suffered a smoke related illness.
• Injuries affected 1.4 million high school athletes in 2006, requiring 500,000 physician visits and 30,000 hospitalizations.

We still drive and watch our kids play sports and we appreciate that risk is present in all activities. Still, the flu season should not be ignored. An H1N1 virus infection will affect each individual differently, but most will have mild or moderate symptoms and recover in a few days. The issue with this particular flu virus is its potential to harm infants, children and those who are pregnant.

There is little information out there that suggests that we need to quarantine ourselves and hide from our neighbors because of an uncertain increased potential risk of becoming ill. And there is certainly no reason to consider becoming a survivalist and stocking up on food and water. Simple things like hand washing and coughing in your sleeve will combat the spread of most infections. Unfortunately, you can’t sell that on the internet.

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