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Published May 03, 2009, 12:00 AM

Forum editorial: Spurring flu panic not helpful

No one should minimize the seriousness of what appears to be a major outbreak of the unfortunately named swine flu. But initial reporting of the situation last week ranged from hyperbolic to panicky.

By: Forum Editorial Board, INFORUM

No one should minimize the seriousness of what appears to be a major outbreak of the unfortunately named swine flu. But initial reporting of the situation last week ranged from hyperbolic to panicky. Casual use of loaded descriptions like “worldwide pandemic” generated irrational fears among populations in developed nations where incidents of flu have been isolated and relatively mild.

That’s not to say sensible precautions and scientifically based protocols should not be implemented. Quite the opposite. But while the situation in some places is dire – Mexico is the best example – the United States appears to be well-prepared to contain flu clusters and thus prevent a full-blown nationwide outbreak.

Among the precautions already in effect: school closures where necessary; heightened public heath preparedness; a ramp-up of vaccine production; intensified monitoring of travelers entering the nation; advising individuals to stay away from work or school when ill; attentive personal hygiene, such as hand-washing and the use of alcohol-based sanitizers.

All are smart things to do when the threat of a virulent flu virus looms.

Still, some of the “news” orbiting the flu story is nonsensical and potentially destructive, including the belief that one can contract “swine” flu from eating pork chops or bacon or barbecued ribs. Not true. The virus strain is H1N1, and there is no evidence that humans have gotten – or can get – flu from eating pork or handling pigs, said the World Health Organization and several U.S.-based health agencies.

Nevertheless, the phony pork-flu link has fed lunacy in Egypt, for example, which has not reported a single case of swine flu, but has gone on a campaign to slaughter every pig in the country. In the U.S., bad information has depressed pork prices. Russia and China have imposed U.S. pork bans.

Misinformation feeds panic and could undermine effective responses to an outbreak.

Don’t ignore the flu threat, but don’t be hobbled by it. Don’t buy into rumors and pseudo-science, but rather pay attention to public health warnings and recommendations, and act accordingly.

Stay healthy. Spring weather is coming, and with it the end of the flu season.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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