The next time someone asks you if you have the swine flu, cough in their direction and shrug your shoulders. They won’t know what hit them — literally, because no one knows. When we can’t see the enemy, we make it out to be much worse than it really is. But pigs are dirty, smart animals, fully capable of infecting every mammal within a thousand miles of their wet snouts with this virus that makes your eyes bleed and skin fall off — you can never be too careful.
Like SARS and the bird flu before it, headline news is steeped in nervous jargon like the panic-inducing phrase “state of emergency,” which news anchors and bold newspaper headlines bark at anyone who can hear or read, and for those who can do both, the terror is monumental. Educating yourself on the causes and treatments of swine flu is a good idea, but when the virus is pulled out of context, as many recent pandemics are, uncertainty can result in otherwise rational citizens wearing hospital masks in public and suspecting their friends of carrying the virus without exhibiting symptoms.
You cannot die from swine flu. Symptoms mirror those of the classic flu, and can result in pneumonia if left untreated. You could die from pneumonia, but don’t blame it on Babe. The best advice the World Health Organization has offered to the public is to cover our mouths when we sneeze and to wash our hands regularly — the same advice we read on the moldy piece of paper taped next to the bathroom sink, if we even bother to visit the sink.
To put this into perspective, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the department had declared Obama’s inauguration an emergency of similar severity because it was the best way to provide necessary security for the event, according to arstechnica.com. Network news is toying with our emotions to the tune of higher ratings, and while coverage of the outbreak is necessary, it’s getting out of hand.
The Abilene, Kan., couple who came down with swine flu got it where most of the infected got it — Mexico — and haven’t been hospitalized or quarantined like we would expect from a disease that became a household name over the weekend. That’s because swine flu is not that big of a deal.
“Of course we’re doing too much to scare people,” said Mark Feldstein, a former correspondent for NBC, ABC and CNN who teaches journalism at George Washington University. “Cable news has 24 hours to fill, and there isn’t 24 hours of exciting news going on. If you scare people, they’ll tune in more,” he said in a Washington Post article.
There you have it – hype in the raw and straight from the pig’s mouth. So go out and celebrate the recovery of our sanity by chomping on some bacon, slicing some ham, or giving your dog a dried pig’s ear to suck on, because none of these will result in sickness. Just don’t visit Mexico until the next wave of headlines pushes this set into the trough.
If you want to know more disinformation about swine flu, see the news article on the subject in today’s Collegian.
Whitney Hodgin is a senior in print journalism. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.