Swine flu panic just hogwash

01:50, Aug 27 2009

Swine flu? Oh for goodness' sake. What a load of hogwash.

OK, it's slightly off-topic for a politics blog but allow me a little latitude. It's a wet Monday morning, and there's not much else going on.

Which I guess is the point. The breathless reporting of this "outbreak'' of "international concern'' that has "shut down Mexico City'' and "could lead to the closure of Auckland International Airport'' is occurring because of an absence of any real news.

How many times are we going to cry wolf over these things? Remember bird flu? The rush to stock up on Tamiflu? Gee didn't the Swiss drug maker Roche do well out of that one.

Sars anyone? The Millennium Bug? Let's face it, we love a good crisis and the media enjoys it more than anyone. Scaring the pants off the public is great fun, and sells newspapers.

Swine flu? Oh for goodness' sake. What a load of hogwash.

OK, it's slightly off-topic for a politics blog but allow me a little latitude. It's a wet Monday morning, and there's not much else going on.

Which I guess is the point. The breathless reporting of this "outbreak'' of "international concern'' that has "shut down Mexico City'' and "could lead to the closure of Auckland International Airport'' is occurring because of an absence of any real news.

How many times are we going to cry wolf over these things? Remember bird flu? The rush to stock up on Tamiflu? Gee didn't the Swiss drug maker Roche do well out of that one.

Sars anyone? The Millennium Bug? Let's face it, we love a good crisis and the media enjoys it more than anyone. Scaring the pants off the public is great fun, and sells newspapers.

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So let's just get this latest crisis straight. "Up to'' 80 people have died in Mexico from a variant of Influenza A, which is being dubbed swine flu. A bunch of Americans and Canadians are thought to have caught it, though none of them have died or are even very sick.

Ten Kiwi kids apparently have the "deadly new swine flu'' after a school trip to Mexico recently. So far they're all OK too.

Now, I'm not suggesting for a minute that influenza isn't a nasty virus. Or that health authorities shouldn't take precautions until we know more about it.

But let's have some perspective, shall we? Every year, the flu kills an estimated 500,000 people around the world. There are up to five million cases. People die and are hospitalised right here in New Zealand from the flu every year as well.

Rolling out special news bulletins like TV3 did last night should be reserved for genuinely grave news - not some worldwide media beat-up.

Praise so far to our Health Minister Tony Ryall, who has adopted a low-key approach and resisted the temptation to press the panic button and start issuing Tamiflu and dust masks.

Mind you, a good health scare could be just what the doctor ordered for the Government. It takes our minds off the start of winter, the state of the economy, job losses, and the fact that the Government doesn't actually seem to be doing very much at the moment.    

Of course, the real problem is that should a genuine health emergency ever arise we'll all be so sick of the false alarms we'll probably ignore it.

Which is what we should do with this one, beyond taking the usual precautions such as handwashing and not sneezing on people and getting your winter flu jab. And perhaps TV3 will put some context into tonight's bulletin, including the number of deaths from regular everyday boring flu that just kills infants and the elderly.

Is that a pig flying past my window?