A case of swine flu fatigue
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing and reading about the threatened swine flu pandemic.
This afternoon, CBC Newsworld’s Suhana Meharchand breathlessly reported that “just in the last few minutes Ontario has reported another case of swine flu.” That brought to 34 the number of cases in Canada, all mild.
Not mentioned was that four thousand people die from influenza in Canada every year — eight thousand in a bad year.
Of course, we should all take sensible precuations. Wash our hands frequently. Stay home if we’re sick. Cough into our sleeve. I thought President Obama did a good job of laying out these simple precautions in his One Hundred Days news conference.
I heard a good discussion about this on the CBC’s The Current this morning.
The guests were two authors: Vincent Lam, the Toronto doctor who wrote Bloodletting and Miraculus Cures (Random House) and Priscilla Wald of Duke University, author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Duke).
The discussion was about the epidemic as narrative.
“Every story needs a bad guy,” Dr. Lam noted. “The notion that some sort of illness could be passed to us is threatening.”
Prof. Wald’s take was equally valid. “The narrative is a familiar one — a sudden outbreak of a dangerous new illness, it begins to spread, the struggle between the disease which is advancing, the scientists who are working to counteract it, and the epidemiologists who are heroically working to identify and contain the spreading illness.”
To give both credit, both recognized that the failure of most countries to provide decent health care to their citizens should be a far bigger story than swine flu.
But if you think the media are on a feeding frenzy over swine flu (or Mexican flu, as Stephen Harper called it today), consider what they’ve to work with.
In the U.S., gaffe-prone VP Joe Biden told a TV audience that he’d advised his family not to go anwhere “in a confined place” — such as an airplane or a subway car. How about elevators? The White House had to apologize for such a foolish generalization.
Then you have the back stories — the pork industry protesting (and justifiably so), with the result that health officials are now pointing out that the disease is not spread either by pork or by pigs. Officially, it’s now H1N1 influenza.
Howard Kurtz, the media critic for the Washington Post, writes here that it is the sheer volume of media coverage, not the disease itself, that has “suggested a full-blown crisis.”
Maybe we all just needed a respite from the global financial crisis. After all, who cares if we’re bankrupt if we’re going to die?