Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Happened to the Swine Flu?

Upon the cancellation of my Monday classes, I partook in some early-morning studying and caffeine consumption at the local coffee shop. While sipping on my Vienna roast, I dabbled over an article by Toni Morrison, occasionally pausing to eavesdrop on a group of ladies at a table nearby. Most of the conversation around me passed through one ear and out the other, but one question a lady asked made me stop. "Whatever happened to the swine flu?" she inquired casually after hearing it mentioned in conversation. Her question, rather hypothetical, remained unanswered by her peers and their gab drifted onward towards more interesting and easily answered subjects.
This question made me notice the dissapearance of the drastic need for hand sanitizer and vaccinations that ran rampid through the country as fast as a panicked ostrich late last year. Did the horrendous H1N1 influenza disappear solely due to the wide distribution of the vaccine? Or did it disappear like any natural cold that circulates through cities--through natural immune resistance? Let me break it to you: H1N1 is still in existance, it still makes people call in sick to work, and it is still causing death. But let me also inform you that H1N1 will not surpass what it is in essense: a strain--a meager strain of the common, long-held, ill-fating influenza.
So why all the hype? H1N1 is now destroying the population at the same rate of any typical influenza. Why, one might ask, did its break-out cause the American public to have an official freak-out and melt-down? Personally, I had never seen hand sanitizer distributed in such abundance as seen in April of 2009. Two weeks after its outbreak, hand sanitizer was placed next to the hand scanners at the gym at the university which I attend. I looked down at the hand sanitizer and thought, Why should I use this? Swine flue broke out two weeks ago and I was at the gym yesterday. Am I sick? No. And even if I sanitize before a hand scan, it's not like people aren't going to be touching all the machines inside. Skipping out on the free chance at hand sanitizer, I proceeded to participate in my normal workout. To this day, I have yet to contract swine flu.
My curiosity provoked me to look at the CDC website to see the mortality rates of the swine flu. The first few lines are similar to media coverage: the flu is continually spreading and vaccinations are highly encouraged. What one might not see, if they don't decide to read on, is that, "The majority of 2009 H1N1 deaths have occurred in people between the ages of 50 and 64 years of age; 80 percent of whom have had an underlying health condition" ( Thus, the swine flu has the same effect as the normal flu: an annoying, uncomfortable, few days of illness, and more drastic effects to people over the age of 50 and people with other underlying medical issues. Why, then, was H1N1 so drastically feared?
Could it have been a paranoid public audience or a media-hype geared towards the sales of flu vaccine and other over-the-counter medications? This strange hypothetical question reminded me all too mysteriously of the book Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. This novel suggests, through its genetically perfected society, that all medical ailments have been wiped out; however, in order to stay in business, the genetic engineers release small epidiemics and then release the cures for those epidemics. Thus, they continue to profit off of medicine, because they nurture the need for medicine.
Overall, H1N1 is a medical issue that needs attention, but the attention has been dramaticized beyond necessity. It is a strain of influenza that is dangerous, especially to people with underlying medical conditions. While the concept of media hype over an unsubstantiated epidemic is simply speculation and may not be true, it is important to take note of the alternate view to this situation. Listening to the television absentmindedly may produce some truth, but I emphasize the word some. Rather than take in information from one source, I hope that people begin to look at every angle of situations, and consider other possibilities, in order to move closer to a genuine, all-encompassing truth.

Suggested Reading:
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood