Thursday, April 30, 2009

My reaction to Swine Flu

Well, everyone else gets to have a reaction to the current situation, so I want one, too! Here it is:

I think that there are some vast overreactions on both sides--in typical American form, we seem to only have two response options. On the one hand, there are people holing up already, stocking Tamiflu and face masks, and having nearly no contact with the outside world. At this stage, I think this is an overreaction (although I'll admit I'm not sure what my own criteria are for when this switches to a reasonable reaction).

On the other hand, I'm seeing lots of folks complaining that "it's all overblown!" and "we have the flu every year--shut up already!". They either don't understand, or don't believe, the various features of this flu being importantly different from other types of flu, and that they need to be tracked. By the time you know you have a pandemic on your hands, it's already too late. I've recently seen websites pointing out that one's own family is extremely unlikely to contract swine flu. Where this data is coming from I can't imagine, since currently no one knows how likely or unlikely anyone is to contract it. The last time a particularly virulent strain of this virus jumped species, it affected an estimated 20% of the world population. It's true that only .5-1% of the population actually died from this flu, but that hardly means that we can all rest easy that we're unlikely to be hurt by it. A flu with that level of virulence places a moral demand on everyone to do what they can to minimize it's spreading. We don't know if this new virus will be similarly virulent, but it is incumbent on everyone to pay attention and take appropriate precautions. "It is highly unlikely to affect me" just doesn't fly with infectious diseases, and I think it is a morally suspect position.

As far as I can see, this is a form of flu that has jumped species once before, but in a different form (where the previous jump was utterly disastrous). This makes two things very likely: first, because it's the flu, it's probably highly infectious (which it has now been shown to be). Second, because it has jumped species, it is unlikely that humans have evolved resistances to it. We may have some increased resistance left from the previous jump, which would be good, but it wouldn't take much of a mutation to render that fairly useless--note how it's already quite infectious despite any latent resistance, while currently having a fairly low fatality rate, possibly due to latent resistance.

To me, nationally/internationally, the only sane thing to do is to make people as aware as possible of the disease and what reasonable precautions one can take, while also carefully tracking its progress and any mutations; developing vaccines & better medications (which, one can only hope, will be made available to the poor who are likely to be hit disproportionately) seems sane, too. This is not overreaction--it is the sane and best method our medical community has for coping with a potential pandemic. At state/community levels, watch for signs of it in your own area, and change behavior as necessary. It is not only reasonable to quarantine oneself in the face of a potential pandemic occurring in your community, it may well be a moral requirement for the protection of yourself and others. The more people that contract the virus, the more chances it has to infect others, and the more opportunities it has to mutate into something truly nasty (if it hasn't already). If it's not in your community yet, taking standard flu precautions (i.e., good hygiene, staying out of crowded areas, minimizing handshaking, etc.) seems sane to me. For family level, not freaking out is probably good, but so is paying attention to what's happening and not pretending that it just won't affect you so you don't have to worry about it. Try to make sure that you've got food in the pantry in the event that you can't/shouldn't go to the store for awhile. Ramp up the handwashing/hygiene stuff. In my family, we've ramped up our echinacea & elderberry intake, and I'm trying to make sure that our kids get enough sleep. We're not really restricting other activities yet, but we might in the near future. OTOH, we rarely do things that would trip concerns--although B is planning on going to a party tonight.

We have a new strain of a potentially dangerous flu on our hands--one that was devastating in the past. We have a global/highly-mobile community that has essentially already spread it from one side of the globe to the other in short order. We also have incredibly effective communications & tracking abilities, and vastly superior immunological methods today. If we pay honest attention to the problem, I think we have a good chance of averting disaster. Of course, every disaster we avert makes the population that much more complacent, so maybe getting kicked in the pants (at least a little bit) would be a good thing.

Them's my $.02.

Robyn M. in Indiana--with one confirmed case of Swine Flu, but over 200 miles away


  1. Oh wow--the Crunchy One read my blog! Now I'm totally geeking out. =D And thank you for the compliment!

  2. I am looking at the reaction to this whole ting and thinking that perhaps over reaction is the way to go because in the long run it may contribute to a lessening of the effects on this for everyone else. We are taking reasonable steps in our home. But I do not judge how the media overplays this because if it reaches one more person who decides to be more diligent about washing their hands, then that contributes to one less person getting sick.

  3. I mentioned this in my personal blog today, today 6000 children will be left as orphans so we need to keep swine flu in perspective. Not that we shouldn't take some precautions etc but perspective! Great post! Thank you for the comment on the co-op!

  4. Thanks for the information.I am from Korea. Korea also had 8people died because of swine flu. We have to be careful to this world. Anyway, Thanks. Then BYE!!!

  5. hello thaks for this great information about flu is really professional, have a nice day.