Monday, November 2, 2009

Voices from the Hot Zone

Putting the swine in swine flu since 2009

I remember "bird flu" and "SARS" being played up by the media as global pandemics that you had to presume, based on their level of frantic attention, would be global killers depopulating whole cities and leaving the great nations of the world as desolate wastelands of cannibalistic human savages. Then they went away and everybody went, "Oh yeah. I guess they were no big deal after all."

We're not epidemiologists here, so it's hard for us to judge how serious an outbreak of infectious disease really is. So in those instances, we largely bought into the media frenzy. It's been 5-6 years, but our basement cabinets are STILL stuffed full of canned food (nearly all of which has expired), as well as jug after jug (after jug after jug... after jug) of tap water. We have a cabinet stocked with "go bags" - backpacks containing clothing, blankets, first aid supplies, and a variety of basic, inexpensive survival gear (matches, those flashlights that you just shake to activate, that sort of thing). None of the kids' clothing would fit them anymore and everything smells a bit musty from being down in the basement all that time.

Yeah, we were suckers. We fell for the media hypestorm. It wasn't legitimate news reporting, it was a sensationalistic ratings grab. And it pissed me off - both that the so-called "legitimate news organizations" participated, but of course that I was dumb enough to fall for it. It was a big eye-opener for me and helped me to finally appreciate that "the news" isn't necessarily out to inform me as much as it's a business that's out to make as much money as possible by pulling in viewers (or readers) and selling advertising. Fair and accurate reporting, if it happens, is just a nice bonus for them.

It was my wake-up call and it amply demonstrated that the mainstream media can't be relied upon for anything genuinely important. As such, my skepticism meter was well into the red zone when the first reports of "Swine Flu" began to roll in back on April 25th, 2009. The mainstream media was playing it up to the hilt, creating a firestorm of attention for this emerging disease. I scoffed. There were deaths, of course, but the chances of dying were still infinitesimal compared to, for instance, getting into your car and driving to work.

Now it's fall and 2009 Novel H1N1 Influenza is in full swing. To their credit, I suppose, the media seem to have gotten a little bored with it, and some of the sensationalistic hype has faded. And while lots of people are getting sick, including 4/5ths of my immediate family (so far), this thing isn't exactly Captain Trips. We don't seem to be turning into zombies and as of yet there's been no more collapse of world government than is typical for, say, a Wednesday.

So I've had to revise upwards my initial "meh" response to this flu outbreak, but not by much. There's the remote chance that my family could suffer severely from this infection, but it's much more likely that it will be a relatively mild inconvenience for a few days, largely unworthy of the initial degree of media attention.

In the meantime, it's not unlikely that my blog entries this week will be delayed, like today's. I'm off to lie around feeling sorry for myself.

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