May 13, 2009

Do pigs swarm?

An OBJ poll showed most respondents believe the news surrounding H1N1 virus -- that virus of many names -- to be hype. One commenter summed the matter up well, pointing out that "over 36,000 people die from influenza every year in the U.S. … More people die in car accidents … yet you do not see them staying out of cars. Just practice good hygiene and go about your business."

You also rarely see news of flu deaths delivered with the breathless sort of mania that has attended the recent outbreak.

Detracting from the hype is the inappropriate amount of furor over what to call the thing. "Swine flu" offends the pork industry and Israelis. "Mexican flu" annoys Mexicans.

Whatever you call it, don't make this unfortunate error:

Third Case Of Swine Confirmed In Orange County.

I'm sorry, a "case of swine?" Is that a crate containing a dozen pigs? Or is it more like "Hey, I've been turned into a pig. Can I go home?" What does a swine outbreak look like? Or is a rash of swine better called an "infestation?"

One may justifiably ask why the story wasn't headlined "Third case of flu confirmed..."

Well, obviously, that would draw a big "who cares" from the readership.

Which is exactly the point I wish to make.

Perhaps it is inappropriate to belittle a fatal illness. But the problem with coverage of The Virus That Must Not Be Named is that it has been completely out of proportion to the actual threat. Moreover, it is out of proportion to the usual coverage of the flu. This sort of skewed journalism needlessly frightens the naive and just leaves the rest of us jaded.

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