BY BREEANNA SVEUM
Okay, I’d like everyone to take a deep breath and count to 10. I’ll wait.
…There, now don’t we all feel better? Hold on to that new-found calm because we’re going to talk about something that might scare you: Swine Flu.
With the storm of apocalypse-like pronouncements courtesy of the main-stream media, you might be more than a little concerned about the H1N1 influenza virus.
The White House held an entire summit in July on the subject and developed a three-part plan that operates on the assumption that 30 percent of Americans will get swine flu, resulting in somewhere between 200,000 and a million deaths.
There’s even a new website, flu.gov (along with pandemicflu.gov), designed to answer all of your questions about swine flu, avian flu (apparently people can still get that) and pandemic flu information, in case the information at cdc.gov and who.int wasn’t enough for you.
Desperate scenarios involving a disease-ridden wasteland, over-crowded hospitals, and government-enforced quarantine are the favorite of cable news personalities and bloggers alike, who also constantly remind us that the WHO classified H1N1 as a phase six pandemic.
And even if you avoid cable news and the internet, constant reminders from UMW, like the “Flu Information Line” and a glut of fliers stapled to every spare inch of every bulletin board on campus reminding you to wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough (even though you should have been doing those things anyway, just for hygiene).
Still feeling calm? I didn’t think so.
While it’s true that World Health Organization (WHO) classified H1N1 as a phase six pandemic, that doesn’t mean the entire world is doomed to death. For one thing, the WHO’s classification simply means there’s “community-level outbreaks in two or more countries in one WHO region” (which are basically separated by continents) and one other country in some other region. While H1N1 has infected people in more than just three countries, the phase six pandemic classification is not necessarily as severe as people seem to assume.
Additionally, WHO classifies the severity of the disease as only moderate. The levels of severe illness from H1N1 is about the same as the seasonal flu, regular antiviral medication like Tamiflu do work and do lessen the severity of the illness, and hospitals are able to cope with the number of people seeking medical attention.
That’s not quite the wasteland that’s been described.
To be fair, the H1N1 flu strain is more widespread than the typical seasonal flu, at least for people younger between 10 and 45, who are more likely to catch it. And people have died of the H1N1 flu. Of course, to be fair, people die of the regular seasonal flu as well—between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths worldwide, according to WHO. According to Reuters, the death rate for H1N1 has been comparable to the regular, seasonal flu.
Furthermore, the majority of people who get H1N1 (and also the seasonal flu) recover without the need for medical attention. Of those that do need hospitalization, the majority have other complications that put them at risk, such as obesity and decreased or suppressed immune systems.
Being on a college campus in close quarters with people whose personal hygiene may be debious does put you at a higher risk of catching H1N1—but it also puts you at a higher risk for the seasonal flu, mono, the norovirus (stomach flu), and any number of similar diseases. Despite the higher risk of catching any of these diseases, your potential need for hospitalization or anything more severe than fluids and bed rest is minimal.
Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, eat well and calm down. You’ll be fine.