What to Make of the Swine Flu?

It’s difficult to know how to react to the swine flu news blitz. Cases around the globe are broadly scattered, but not extensive. The death rate in Mexico, while certainly concerning and, moreover, tragic for those who’ve lost loved ones, doesn’t seem all that high. Yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised its warning level to one step below doom, the story’s been on the front page of the Providence Journal for two days in a row (today including a map of the disease’s reach), North Kingstown high school has shut down, and several cases have emerged across New England.
Reasonableness would seem to suggest that people not take more extreme precautions than increased hand-washing and such until those maps begin showing hundreds of cases where there are currently a few, but at that point, it could be too late if we’re looking at a deadly pandemic. (Although, again, the fact that the peak seems to have been reached in Mexico suggests that it’s not a doomsday virus.) We’re certainly fortunate, however, to live in a time during which news can spread more quickly than the disease that is its topic.
Without delving into partisan criticism, I will say that this logic, which the president has echoed, strikes me as odd (from the first link above):

“Closing our nation’s borders is not merited here,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a mid-afternoon briefing, echoing comments she made earlier in the day while being pressed by senators at a hearing.
She said closing borders or U.S. ports would have enormous adverse economic consequences and would have “no impact or very little” to help stop the spread of the virus.
“This virus is already in the United States. Any containment theory … is really moot at this time,” Napolitano said.

That doesn’t really jibe with my notion of containment. Fewer than a hundred people spread across a nation of more than 300 million is substantially less of a threat than travel to a country in which thousands of cases have been confirmed. It’s not as if we’re a single body that has been infected.

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Patrick
Patrick
12 years ago

Why is it front page news when less than a couple hundred people die world wide when the more common influenza virus kills thousands of Americans each year? Imagine if pig flu killed 1,000 Americans? 10,000? 30,000? There’d be panic in the streets. Yet 36,000 Americans died from influenza last year.
Media, media, media…

msteven
msteven
12 years ago

This is delving into partisan criticism. Closing off Mexico may have some effect on slowing the spread but there are other factors to consider – like most major decisions. It isn’t a complete no-brainer. For me just another example where the response is related to the political affiliation of the leader. Imagine if this has occurred and McCain was President …

Justin Katz
12 years ago

It is wholly the sentiment that I was questioning, and I absolutely would have made the same remarks had the administration been Republican. The idea that the decision to close the border or not hinges on whether we can ensure absolute purity from the disease within our nation, as opposed to a handful of cases, is silly.
That’s all.

David
David
12 years ago

The virus is already world wide. So all borders closed? Possible help and information comes across those borders. These types of viruses mutate quickly so what is happening in Mexico right now could have little signifacance or value to the US or, Mexican information could have great value. Containment could very well be at a much more local level. The people who have studied these viruses for years advocate coordinated national and global response. This advocacy has cut across national and world political lines for years. Am I missing something?

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