May 8, 2009

Citizens Frustrated Over Exaggerated Flu-Hype

As the swine-flu fears begin to subside, a number of people have begun questioning whether governments and World Health Organization officials didn't go too far in hyping the threat that the virus posed.

Even as many have begun to question the organization's judgment, WHO officials sounded another warning on Thursday that up to 2 billion people could catch the hitherto mild flu if the outbreak turns into a global epidemic.

Many have begun blaming such dramatic alarms for the wearisome media coverage and over-reactive measures of a number of governments that have led to massive disruptions in the lives of private citizens.

Schools have shut down, leaving healthy kids at home losing precious classroom time.  Countless businesses were forced to close, costing private entrepreneurs and small business millions in revenue.  Mexico's forecasted tourism revenues have plummeted for the coming summer and pork producers worldwide are already reporting falling demand for their products.  Economists even say that the scare may have snipped early buds of recovery in an ailing global economy.

"I don't know anyone who has it.  I haven't met anyone who knows anyone who contracted it," said Carl Shepherd, a resident of Chicago, Illinois "“ reportedly the worst hit state in the U.S.  "It's really frightening more people than it should have.  It's like crying wolf."

It is now some two weeks since initial reports about the virus broke and there have been a total of 46 deaths "“ 44 of which were in Mexico.  Twenty-four countries have reported a total of more than 2,300 confirmed infections, only a small fraction of which required hospitalization.

Infection statistics are far lower than health officials initially predicted and pale in comparison to the number of illnesses and deaths associated with annual seasonal strains of flu. Every year worldwide deaths associated with seasonal flu strains are usually in the hundreds of thousands to a million range.

"It's been totally overblown," said Miranda Smith, a former student at Cisco Junior College in central Texas whose graduation ceremony was canceled on account of the swine flu scare.

"Everyone seems to know it's not going to kill you and it's not as deadly as they think," she added.  "Everybody needs to just calm down and chill out."

Craig Heyl of Decatur, Georgia shared Smith's sentiments.  "Swine flu is just another strain of flu.  People get the flu.  I guess you have to call it a pandemic when it's a widespread virus, but I don't think the severity of it is all that concerning."

Public health authorities have slowly begun admitting that their worst fears about the virus did not materialize, but continue to maintain that the virus still has the potential to take a turn for the worse.

"People are taking a sigh of relief too soon," said the Center of Disease Control and Prevention's acting director, Dr. Richard Besser.

"The measures we've been talking about "“ the importance of hand-washing, the importance of covering coughs, the real responsibility for staying home when you're sick"¦ I'm afraid people are going to say, "ËœAh, we've dodged the bullet. We don't need to do that.'"

Concern about the deadly potential of the swine flu is generally shared by the leaders of most health organizations.  Elsewhere however, in chat-rooms, blogs and op-ed pieces, opinions that officials exaggerated the threat are rampant.

"Adults are acting like a bunch of crybabies in a B-rated science fiction germ-outbreak movie, wringing their hands, whining about what to do next," read an opinion letter in the Dallas Morning News on Wednesday.

In Lake Oswego, Oregon, one reader wrote her local paper in frustration, "Is the daily front page body count really necessary?  In reading the entire content of the collected articles one learns that the H1N1 strain is not likely to be more lethal that its predecessors.  Give it a rest!"

On May 5th, during the peak of the flu scare, a USA Today/Gallup poll showed that only 25 percent of Americans said they were worried about getting the virus.

Dr. Robert Daum, an infection disease expert at the University of Chicago, basically says that he sees both sides of the issue.

"I think it was right to place everyone on high alert, and now right" to start letting things calm down, said Daum.


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