You Swine You!

by DavalosMcCormack on April 28, 2009

So, with all the fear and loathing and yet more fear about swine flu out there are we more in danger of scaring ourselves to death rather than getting seriously ill from this disease?

Perhaps so. The biggest selling health item on Amazon.com at the moment is face masks even though health officials say they offer almost no real protection against the virus.

The facts right now are that in the U.S. there have been several dozen cases, none so far have been fatal. There have been reported cases – though well below the level that could be considered an outbreak – in several other countries but for now the only country that is reporting any deaths from the disease is Mexico.

So, what does that tell us? Well, not a lot to be honest.

Health experts are worried, as they usually are, by any outbreak of flu because it has the potential to be devastating. But often those worries are more about being ultra cautious, not wanting to get caught off guard. They raise the alarm so that people are ready and aware of the threat. But right now that is all it is, a potential threat.

We’ve been down this road before. Remember SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory System? An outbreak in 2003 quickly galvanized the international health community as the virus spread from Hong Kong and ended up claiming some 299 lives of 1,755 people infected. Everyone was on alert, fearful the virus would spread around the globe. It didn’t. Or if it did it happened in such a mild manner that no one noticed.

Then a couple of years ago there were fears that a new form of avian or bird flu would be as deadly as the infamous 1918 Spanish flu that killed between 20 and 100 million worldwide.  Again everyone from the World Health Organization to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cranked up the fearometer about the spread of the disease. Again, nothing happened.

So does this mean we shouldn’t be afraid? No, of course not. These viruses do pose a potential threat to us so we need to be alert. But we don’t need to be so fearful that we put our lives, or at least our social lives, on hold. We don’t need to be so scared that we’re afraid to eat bacon or go to a Mexican restaurant in the U.S. or show up at a hospital Emergency Department because we have a cold and fear it might be something worse.

We need to keep a sense of perspective about all this.

There are some simple things we can all do to help reduce our risk of not just this disease but other viruses. First, wash your hands regularly, particularly before eating. This can dramatically reduce your odds of catching it. If you cough or sneeze do what your mum always told you to do, cover your mouth or nose. It stops the spread of droplets in the air.

If you are feeling sick don’t go to work. If it’s just a cold it will pass soon enough, if it isn’t you will know soon enough.

There’s a simple way of telling the difference between a cold and a flu – regular, swine or bird. If all the symptoms are in the head it’s almost certainly a cold. If the symptoms move below the neck, particularly in the form of achy muscles and chills or fatigue throughout the body, then it’s a flu. Go and see your doctor, they might take some blood to test and see if it is the swine flu, they might prescribe Tamiflu. Or they might just tell you to go home, rest, drink lots of fluid and keep a watchful eye on it.

Common sense is your best defense.

And keep it in perspective. Right now it’s something to watch out for, not to be fearful of. Think of all the other things that pose a much greater and much more real threat to you every day – have you seen how everyone else except you and me drives! – and pay attention to those and less to the possible threat posed by something that probably isn’t even in your town.

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