Keeping the Swine Flu in Perspective

You can’t listen to the news for five minutes without hearing a story about the Swine Flu. It is amazing at how this has taken center stage in just a few weeks. By the sound of things, you would think we are on the edge of a pandemic, not unlike what Stephen King described in his novel, The Stand.

a man with a flu mask on

In times like these, it is important to maintain perspective. I did a quick search on Google and found the leading causes of death in the U.S. The most recent data I could find were from 2004. These are the annual numbers:

The 10 Leading Causes of Death in the U.S.
Cause of Death Number
Heart disease 652,486
Cancer 553,888
Cerebrovascular diseases 150,074
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 121,987
Unintentional injuries 112,012
Diabetes 73,138
Alzheimer’s 65,965
Influenza and pneumonia 59,664
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis 42,480
Septicemia 33,373

And how many people have died in the U.S. as a result of Swine Flu? So far, one. Yep, just one.

In light of this, I suggest that we all stop, take a deep breath, and put this into perspective. I am not saying that this won’t get worse or that more people won’t die. Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t be cautious or smart.

However, we need to remember that what drives the media is drama. If they can keep you glued to the TV set, the radio station, or their website, then they they win with their advertisers. Don’t discount how this impacts the 24-hour news cycle.

Question: Are you concerned about the Swine Flu? How are you responding to the media reports?
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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/human3rror human3rror

    ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh i'm scared.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/human3rror human3rror

    i honestly just started reading about it today as i ate some food at wafflehouse. strange place to start "caring" about the issue.

    perhaps it was the ham in my food…

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/jbwagner Josh Wagner

      Well, WaffleHouse isn't exactly the place for "clean" eats… ;)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Beaconhillnw Jim

      i had some sausage at the pancake house this morning…didn't cross my mind 'til someone sneezed…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jbwagner Josh Wagner

    Been thinking the same thing lately. I know that the swine flu is not something to be trifled with, but it's blown way out of proportion. We should be smart, not panicky.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Totally agree.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Beaconhillnw Jim

        yup

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/mvivas mvivas

    My sentiments exactly Mike. Good way of putting it in perspective. I live 10 miles away from the NYC Queens school which has the most cases of Swine Flu in the country. Though I am careful, I refuse to let the media dictate that I live in fear. And to think that Egypt demanded the slaughter of all living pigs in the country. Talk about exaggeration and lack of knowledge.

    Safe trip to Africa. We are praying for you and Gail.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks so much for your prayers. We are on our way to Cairo on Monday, so maybe we'll learn more there. Best.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

      and it can't even be contracted from pigs!

  • Adam S

    The problem is that this is going to really hurt the Mexican economy. Yes there are some people dying and that is horrible. But people die every day. There are well over 100 million people that still are living in Mexico that need to make a living and support their families.

    In the US, there are schools that are shutting down. How many parents will have to skip a day of work (at least some of them will have to do it without pay) because there is fear that doesn't have a lot of basis in reality.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I hate that for the Mexican people. Between that an all the reports of the drug wars from Juarez, this is the last thing they need.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/colleencoble colleencoble

    It's all media hype! and that 1 death, sad as it is, was a Mexican boy visiting the U.S. No Americans have died from it.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I wasn't aware of that. However, I heard the head of the Influenza Department for the World Health Organization say that the the initial "reported" cases of Swine Flu in Mexico were actually pneumonia-related deaths.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Adam_S Adam_S

        He was a Mexican immigrant (he might have been a citizen, but the family was legal immigrants) that have gone back to Mexico for a brief visit. But he also had some other health issues that weakened his immune system.

  • Ken

    Queston: What happened to the bird flu that was suppose to wipe us out? I hope this one IS just another media hyped scare. But if it is, I am frightened for the day that the REAL thing threatens us.

    Either…. The media and government warnings are real and they have done a stellar job stopping these potential pandemic disasters
    Or…. We are peons, moved and manipulated by the whim of what we see and hear in the news…. and from the lips of Joe Biden.

    Answer to the queston: The bird flu flew. Will the swine flu get pigger or will we rejoice cause it die snout.

    • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Then before The Birth Flu, there was SARS and before that Anthrax. The news media have an insatiable need for drama.

      • Ken

        Birth flu? I guess I missed that one. (-:

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/apples4all apples4all

        Aren't you the same Mike Hyatt that hyped Y2K and made a boatload of money on a book telling people how to get ready for that disaster?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chrisdat chrisdat

    I do think it is a concern. I think that WHO and the CDC would not be reacting with such a serious response if it was all media hype or political diversion.
    What we are seeing now, 4 months from now may be very different. We are at the very beginning and will soon grow weary of this story – but it may be still spreading exponentially. What seems silly now, may become quite serious.
    In the US we may not have as much to worry about. It it hits 30% of the population we have enough Tamiflu and medical help to many if not most to make a full recovery.
    But what about the rest of the world? The countries that don’t have Tamiflu, adequate medical treatments, 30% is a big number, and that is a very big global number. That’s a lot of people. Reason for concern, not panic – in my opinion.
    The question I have, is the church preparing to respond? Are we ready to help families with children, the elderly, the poor. We we willing go into villages and towns where infection rates are high and help. Or are we going to sit hording our Tamiflu, sanitizing our little spaces, watching the news and wringing our hands?

    • http://www.1writeway.wordpress.com Marie Ann Bailey

      The CDC and WHO have acted appropriately; it is the media that has overreacted. I work for a state health department, and we have been mobilized by the CDC to control the spread of this albeit mild form of flu. The upside is that if and when we have to deal with a more deadly version of this virus, we will be ready (much more ready than we were a month ago) to control the spread and hopefully mitigate any serious illness or death. The downside is that the worried well are already trying to horde antivirals, leaving that much less for those who might get sick later. It's a sad commentary on human nature that the self seems to always come first.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/tomesnyder tomesnyder

        The CDC and WHO acted politically. A level 5 out of 6 from WHO? Give me a break. If they keep crying wolf one of these days…

        • http://www.1writeway.wordpress.com Marie Ann Bailey

          So I guess you would prefer that we did nothing … just continue with our bad health habits, no surveillance, and be caught with our pants down when we're hit with a worse strain of virus??

  • Linda

    No, I'm not concerned about the Swine Flu. People in my area are panicking unnecessarily. I heard a report on the radio the other day about people rushing to the emergency room because of sniffles, sore throats, sneezing, and sinuses–only to discover it's because of all the pollen (I guess the green dust on the cars wasn't a clue). People at work are putting santizers on the conference room tables–of all places. I'm afraid to ask why … sanitize the hands before passing agendas around?

    I've been ignoring the news for the most part because I know they're hyping it for ratings. Every half hour on CNN or whatever, I'm sure some pundit is buzy analyzing the story, hoping to eek out one more ratings point. The radio I can't quite avoid; the other day I heard someone being interviewed suggest that we might want to stock up on food just in case. No doubt we will have a run on bread and milk at the grocery store, like we do right before a snowstorm.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I'm currently in the DFW airport with Gail. We just saw a guy with a face mask on. Don't know if it was because of the Swine Flu, but, of course, it was the first thing I thought.

  • http://Saferhermosabeach.com Tracy

    I am trying to keep informed with moderation and always like to practice my preparedness plan when an incident arises like this. I hope for the best and plan for the worst. If this event does not get any worse, great. I have at least practiced getting information to the members of our community (@saferhermosa) and given suggestions on prevention and preparation.

    If it does get worse, then each day I have prepared my family and provided information for others to prepare and then if/when that one day of panic comes those that have prepared little by little can comfortably sit back in there homes knowing they have 2 weeks supply of food and supplies and won't be caught in the mass hysteria of those who chose not consider the possibility of the worst and now the worst is here and they will suffer the natural consequences of their choice.

    I don't think most people are glued to their television 24/7, rather they are able to go about their day as usual. Then when they have a moment they just pop over to @saferhermosa or turn on and listen to the top of the news and get the latest updates and then go about their normal routines again.

    I understand your point and it is well taken, however, I believe many recognize that moderation is the key.

    There is a definite benefit to at least appoint one person in the community to suffer through all those advertisements so as not to miss any important details though.
    ^_^

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Adam_S Adam_S

    There are also cases of racial profiling going on that is an unfortunate result of where the cases happened to first appear. MSNBC and CNN have reported on them.

  • Ashley

    Hey you guys left out whooping cough….but that may have been regional. Can't remember…:x

  • http://www.medicineandtechnology.com/ Joseph Kim, MD, MPH

    Although this perspective is accurate for now, the fear is that the mortality could rise exponentially. All the other "major killers" are chronic in nature and we don't see sudden spikes in numbers over a short amount of time. If swine flu really turns into a pandemic, then I'm afraid that the mortality will reach the millions (if not more). Let's pray that quarantine efforts will be successful throughout the world. We're not ready for the rapture yet.

  • http://blog.ianbeyer.com Ian Beyer

    Let’s also remember, it’s sweeps month!

  • http://lisanotes.blogspot.com Lisa notes…

    The schools in my town have decided to close down for 2 whole weeks because of two unconfirmed cases in the county. It's unbelievable the panic that is ensuing, despite the media's ironic call to "Don't panic," as they subsequently panic themselves. It's crazy.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Beaconhillnw Jim

    we've had west-nile virus; bird-flu; swine-flu; upper-respiratory stuff; right now i'm thirsty…

  • http://elainaavalos.blogspot.com Elaina Avalos

    I'm not worried at least not in any way that will affect my life in any major ways. I have to take an immune suppressant right now due to lupus. However, my behavior now will be no different than any other time I've taken it in past. I went to Disneyland this week and didn't think twice about it beyond the same things I'd do any other time I'm in a public place (which does not include wearing a mask!).

  • http://www.conamor.webs.com Rode Sarmiento

    I'm mexican, living in Mexico, and I see there's a fear and terror in people which I have not seen before. I'm a veterinarian, and I can see a lot of bad info in the media, and the stupidity of the politicians whom are at charge and ignore all about how to manage a situation that has to do more with education, cleaning behavior and good treatment. __This virus is affecting more the economics and the mental health of people

  • Don French

    People always quote the numbers of seasonal influenza and other sources of death as if they were significant. They are not. The problem with swine flu and the reason that the very intelligent and informed people at CDC and WHO, and yes, the media, are so hyped up about this is because of its potential to change very much for the worse. While seasonal flu kills 36,000 persons on average per year (in the US), we have a very good vaccination program and there is even some residual immunity in the population to the seasonal flu. There is little or no immunity to swine flu. It turns out that the fatality rate is low for swine flu, but that is also quite possibly going to change and very much for the worse because of the tendency of flu to mutate. Swine flu has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in the U.S. and no one knows if it will or not. This is why it is not to be taken lightly. It will be a year before we know for sure how serious the situation is.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/chrisdat chrisdat

      Don, I couldn’t agree with you more. When I read the epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists who are willing to blog a comment or write candidly they are saying exactly what you are saying. We don’t know – but there is reason for serious concern. The lack of any immunity in the population, the lack of a viable vaccine (development 6 months, production a year or more once developed), the compromised health of millions, lack of appropriate medical care for 100 of millions and potentially the most dangerous – the chance of a more virulent mutation.

      Avian flu, which we laugh at and bandy around has mutated several times. We are hour 1 of what may be a very long period of time.

      Lastly, I am afraid we have the attention span of a knat, a lack of historical perspective and the depth of a puddle. Serious people (WHO, CDC) are not crying wolf. But they are also acting responsibly. If they were to lay out the potential medium-to-worst case scenario, real fear, real desperation could grip the world – and that is not necessary or helpful.

      Hopefully – today, “hour one” will in history be looked as the “great flu scare”. I hope so. But hopefully, it will never be looked at by CDC, WHO) and historical scientists as “crying wolf”, but instead look at "hour one” as a drill.

  • http://brianhogg.com Brian Hogg

    I responded to the dramatized media reports by shutting them off. The other day they admitted (in 3rd person) that they may have "over reacted"… really?

  • http://michaelsgray.blogspot.com Michael Gray

    I'd like to echo the points about how nothing significant ever came of the hysteria over Avian Flu, SARS, Anthrax, whooping cough, or about 100 other things. Two things haven't been mentioned are: heterosexual AIDS in America and global warming leading to catastrophic environmental conditions . The media were great about laying out all the different ways that each would ravage the nation, but none of these hysterias have withstood the test of time (though global warming is still alive and well, but operating under the "climate change" pseudonym).

    I teach third grade in a lower economic suburb of Phoenix. Do we need to be aware and take precautions? Sure. Should I stop my reading and math lessons to teach a unit on infectious diseases and surgical-grade hand sanitation procedures? Not for the wide world. I'm far more worried that my students will suffer from an inability to read than from a Swine Flu infection.

    Thanks for keeping perspective Mr. Hyatt.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    For those of you who don't know, "sweeps month" is when the media compete for ratings, which sets their advertising rates for the next year. The more drama, the more viewers. The more viewers, the the greater the ratings. The greater the ratings, the more they can charge for ads.

    Follow the money.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Yes, but this is the same thing we heard about Anthrax, West Nile Virus, SARS, bird flu, etc. The same stories are being written and broadcast. The only thing that has changed is the name of the disease.

  • http://www.sojournerblog.blogspot.com Michael Warden

    Right on, Mike. And can I just say, it's amazing how my view of the world changed when I finally summoned the courage to step out of the media maelstrom. I stopped watching television over a year ago now–particularly ALL news-related TV media, and I feel like a choke-chain of fear has been removed from my neck. Until I let it go, I couldn't tell how insidiously the constant barrage of news reports was indoctrinating me to be afraid all the time. Seems every news story is sensationalized to raise the stakes. Apparently, fear sells almost as well as sex. Now I stay informed of current events by checking internet news every few days, but I don't immerse myself in media anymore. I'm fully aware of the swine flu issue, but not letting the story assault my thoughts every 10 minutes on CNN really helps keep life in a more balanced perspective for me.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Gay Gay

    I should add that we don't know why the flu isn't killing in the United States the way it is in Mexico. We HOPE the virus has changed for some reason (climate? distance from original host?) to make it less virulent, but we're not sure–and the danger of complacency is too great to risk complacency.

    • http://elainaavalos.blogspot.com Elaina Avalo

      Isn't the reason why it's killing people in Mexico and not here because Mexico is a developing nation? We're not. That seems like a pretty clear reason to me.

      • http://www.medicineandtechnology.com/ Joseph Kim, MD, MPH

        The other factor could be the availability and use of anti-viral therapies. I'm not sure this is something the media will want to report because that will only heighten the chaos and cause a severe shortage of these drugs.

        Joseph Kim, MD, MPH
        http://www.medicineandtechnology.com/

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JakeSchwein JakeSchwein

    I just hope they don't take my bacon away!!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DayleShockley Dayle Shockley

    Not concerned. It's really laughable how this has become headline news. People can be so gullable. Downright scary.

  • http://www.JohnMRowley.com John Rowley

    I think we should be more concerned with the way we eat, that will lessen the occurrence of most of the ones on your list!

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/Gay Gay

    Michael–

    As a physician, I'll admit that the media has hyped this up, but it's a very real fear. There haven't been many deaths in the United States yet (and I don't consider the single death a U.S. death), BUT… the potential for total devastation exists. This is a case where we'd do well to learn from history.

    This is not like our usual killers. In Mexico, the death rate is somewhere between 5 and 7%. Because of the delay in getting the final serology results, and the inability to exhume corpses, we're not sure on that exact number. Those who are dying are NOT the old and infirm, but the young and previously healthy… between the ages of 2 and 45, for the most part. Those with NO prior health problems. Those who have otherwise enjoyed long and healthy lives.

    In 1918, 40% of the world's population (at least) came down with the flu. That pandemic started out quiet and slow, like it would be no big deal. There weren't a lot of deaths. Officials weren't worried. Spring and summer seemed relatively calm. Then, in the fall, it came back with a fury and wiped out 50 million people. That's 50 million previously healthy people. The world was devastated.

    Imagine, if you will, a world where you are walking down the street and 1 in 20 of your friends are gone because over a period of a few short months, they've died from the flu. Imagine a world where there is medical care available to help some–but not everyone can get that help because there isn't enough care to go around. Imagine riots and violence occurring outside hospitals as family members demand care for their loved ones, and hospitals can't provide it, because they don't have enough ICU beds or ventilators to go around… and people standing like vultures at the bedsides of those about to die, waiting for the bed/ventilator.

    The media COULD pick up on those images, but it hasn't–thank goodness. Doctors, on the other hand, have those images in their minds… and the concern is very real. We don't ever ant to see anything like that happen. We think we can avoid it, but only if we can get the public's cooperation with prevention–and that means closing businesses and schools, handwashing and other hygienic measures. We're also working on a vaccine, but that takes time, and we're not willing to count on beating the clock.

    I wish the media would do a better job of explaining WHY we're doing what we're doing, instead of just hyping up the fear aspect. The thing is… we (the medical profession, scientists, CDC/WHO and the leadership of this country) think it is better to over-react to the pandemic that never was than to be caught doing too little too late for what could be a tragedy discussed in the history books for centuries to come.

    Gay Walker, MD
    American Board of Internal Medicine
    Fellow, American College of Physicans
    gaymwalker.blogspot.com

  • http://www.activeministries.com Dan Lagden

    You're so right Michael, the media uses fear to sell soap powder!

  • http://www.medicineandtechnology.com/ Joseph Kim, MD, MPH

    NY had 50 cases on Saturday (5/2) and today (Sunday) is up to 63 cases. These are confirmed cases and since NYC is one of the major international travel hubs of the world, I think we can expect this virus to spread globally. It's already in China and South Korea.

    We'll be seeing a tremendous increase in travel this summer as students head back home and others take summer vacations. This type of travel is exactly what can cause swine flu to turn into a real pandemic. We shouldn't panic, but we should definitely be concerned.

    Joseph Kim, MD, MPH
    http://www.medicineandtechnology.com/

  • http://BuildingHisBody.com Anne Lang Bundy

    For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)

    Can you imagine how much expense and lost productivity this is costing the nation? What a sad waste.

  • http://terripatrick.wordpress.com/ terri patrick

    It's time – let's all hide in our homes with curtains drawn – eat only what we've personally grown…
    The medical community and news media will never give us an ALL OK signal – to live life – fear free…
    Until then, flip channels. There's some interesting ways to improve your home, just don't cut your finger while learning how to install plumbing and of course – electricity will kill you…
    Then, there are the Penguins, the arctic lifestyle…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Gay Gay

    Terri–

    I don't think your comment is fair. What the medical community is asking for is vigilance, with respect to handwashing and covering up for coughing and sneezing. Let's face it–as a population, our social hygiene stinks. (Candid cameras have shown an appalling number of people don't even wash up after using the restroom!)

    They are also asking that when a case is documented, known contacts practice "social isolation" during the period during which they may be contagious, so that we can limit spread of the disease.

    Neither of these measures is a great big deal. The first is something that should have been part of our daily lives all along. Social isolation? Well, in the past, when we were sick, we actually felt OK about taking time off and giving our bodies time to heal. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to return to those days instead of pushing ourselves to go to work where we expose our coworkers. Perhaps this all has a bright side…

  • http://www.godmessedmeup.blogspot.com Pam Hogeweide

    We seem to be getting mixed messages. Obama tells us to keep calm, but then the CDC is recommending school closures where cases are confirmed for the sake of sanitizing. My sister, the health professional, explained to me that it is the precautionary steps taken now that may help the global community dodge a bullet come flu season this winter. The concerns, she explained are this: healthy young people rather than just little ones and the elderly are succumbing to the SF and even dying. This is a concern. This is a new viral strain for humanity, which means we have little resistance built up to it. Which way will it mutate? To super strains like the Spanish Flu of 1918 where millions died? Or will it fizzle out into lesser strains that are unremarkable. That is the question that the CDC and WHO must wait and see how to answer. Precautions are necessary because a pandemic in our global traveling world could be catastrophic for our most vulnerable citizens. Let's not panic, for sure, but let's not minimize the potential pandemic either.

  • apples4all

    It's fascinating to see all of these anti-hype comments on a Mike Hyatt blog. Isn't this the same Mike Hyatt who wrote the The Y2K Personal Survival Guide? Isn't this the same person who warned us in The Millenium Bug (as one reviewer put it, Hyatt's advice: move to a small town with a volunteer fire department, stockpile food, secure access to a reliable source of fresh water, and buy a gun and ammunition for fending off looters)?

    Come on Mike, you personally made a boatload of money by encouraging people not to keep things in perspective. Have you had a change of heart or is this just a contrarian position you are taking?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, indeed, I did write that book. And, yes, I have had a change of heart.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Yes, indeed, I did write that book. And, yes, I have had a change of heart.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lucy_Ann_Moll Lucy_Ann_Moll

    I'm not the least bit concerned but my kids are. All the hype has infiltrated the schools. My son swears the kid in the other fourth grade class has it. I say "No, he doesn't." He says, "Yes, he does."
    "No."
    "Yes."
    "No."
    "Yes."
    Then I whipped out the parental "I guess we'll see."
    As I headed toward the kitchen, John got the last word. "Yes, he does."
    Why do the schools feel the need to freak out children when the risk negligible?

  • http://www.markparadis.com Mark Paradis

    To piggy back (no pun intended) on Dr. Walker's comment – it is a real concern, and the media is blowing it out of proportion. Remember, the ultimate goal of media outlets are to get your attention and sell you a product = revenue generation. I did a quick search of how many people in the U.S die each year from the flu – 63,729.

    http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/f/flu/deaths.htm

    We don't hear about this total or how to lower these statistics, other than to get the flu shot every year.

    There are preventive measures – promote these in the media – NOT THE HYPE!

  • awhinston

    WHO doesn't help when it comes out and states swine flu is a 'threat to humanity'. Someone over there deserves a hand slap IMO.