Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Can I get swine flu from bacon?

If you ever want to know what is wrong with the news business today, I give you exhibit A; the Swine Flu coverage.

Here is the Headline from the Washington Post; "Mexican Schools Shut as Epidemic Hits 'Critical' Point" Oh goodness, not a critical point, anything but that!

You know the LA Times is going to go hog wild with their converge. (I know it’s a bad pun, but this story is rife with pig puns)

"Schwarzenegger, Obama ramp up efforts against swine flu"
By 'ramp up' I think they mean they will use this crisis to spend even more taxpayer money.

"California's governor declares state of emergency, opening the door for quicker action by state agencies. Obama seeks $1.5 billion to fight swine flu. Number of cases outside Mexico rises above 100."
Wow, 1.5 billion, I guess this is more serious than I thought.

Or this one from Yahoo News; "Is Swine Flu Pandemic Imminent?" the pull quote - "The swine flu drama is advancing like wildfire, with the Mexican death count rising steadily, U.S. cases doubling, and the World Health Organization moving a step closer late Monday to declaring the incident a full-on pandemic."

Now I am staring to get concerned, “full-on pandemic, U.S. cases doubling"

This is a classic case of reporting facts and figures without the proper context. Doubling from what? If there were fifty cases of swine flu reported in the US, with no one seriously ill, and the next week there are one hundred, that would be a doubling of swine flu cases. Sure it's something to keep an eye on, but I'm probably not going to start sealing my doors and windows with duct tape and plastic sheeting.

The news folks know what sells newspapers, and gets people to tune into the nightly news cast, I call it FUD; Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

If you see a headline in your local paper that the swine flu hits a critic point, you may spend two quarters just to see if you need to stop by Home Depot before they run out of Duct tape and plastic sheeting.

Could a swine flu epidemic be major health problem here in the US? Sure it could, but if we start to bring a little context to the discussion, we can also use a bit of reason as well. Here in the US’ in a given year, the seasonal flu kills close to 40,000 people. That is a lot of people, but out of a nation of 303 million folks, those numbers are not quite as scary.

I will continue to keep an eye on this story, this virus could morph into something very dangerous. For now, I want you to know I am doing my part to stop the spread of swine flu; I am having ham for dinner.

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