Swine Flu, Day 3— (news) fatigue and (24/7) general malaise

The American public, it seems, is already exhausted by our (possible) pandemic. Even as HuffPo breaks the glass on their emergency 72 point font, people are suffering the first symptoms of Swine Flu fatigue. That is, in the weekend since H1N1 entered the national consciousness, our constant tumblring and retweeting, digesting and regergitating has produced an unwanted side effect—known in the medical community as general malaise—in our readers.  Gawker.and Mother Jones are already posting second day stories (MoJo, as usual, a thoughtful and valuable piece, Gawker, likewise, notsomuch) on what is stil very much a first day story.

MAP OF THE OUTBREAK

Well, and how would you react? After all, this isn’t like the Chinese earthquake, where something happened  all at once and we spent weeks finding out exactly what,  or the financial crisis, which happened bit by bit every day. Right now, we’re mostly reporting  what might happen in the future. Yeah, you shit yourself when you first heard about it, but this thing is moving so slowly…I mean, how long can one topic really stay at the top of Twitter trends when it takes three days for the CDC to confirm a new case?   In a cycle where we can report each piece in real time, even the NYT’s valient attempt to constantly update a single, cohesive story each day feels exhausting.

Collective exhaustion  presents some really serious problems. The threat of a viral pandemic in an era when we are more densely populated and internationally connected is real and close, the threat of a panic even more so. New York, which has 28 confirmed cases and at about 100 suspected ones has already seen a rush on the anti-flu drug Tamiflu and emergency rooms full of jittery would-be patients. You know where’s a really great place to get sick…but I digress.

You only have to look at last year’s outbreak of measles (a disease against which virtually the entire country is vaccinated), which was imported from London in early spring and  swept Borough Park in the largest single outbreak since 1992 before traveling to Israel  to see that disease travels differently now that it did even 5 or 10 years ago. Measels is a very contagious disease that is not endemic to North America (meaning it’s always imported) against which every New York City public school student must be vaccinated, basically on pain of death. And yet, there were more confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn than there have been of swine flu in Queens (look for that to change, like, tomorrow).

The point in all this being, comparisons to the 1976 scare are largely false. Insofar as they address the potential for media-stoked hysteria, and the dangers inherent to rushing a vaccine, it’s illuminating to study, but otherwise the world of Gerald Ford hold’s little relevance for us @ 6.7 billion. If we allow ourselves (as readers as well as writers) either to be sucked into the collective hysteria or, conversely,  to spit at the risk or use it as a springboard for something else entirely, we’re falling into our own trap.  That is, Gawker and the Times are each a little right: keep the pandemic stoked 24/7 and we risk burrying public information in public bullshit.

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1 Comment

Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Bird Flu, Brooklyn, Mexico, Swine Flu, The Liberal Media

One response to “Swine Flu, Day 3— (news) fatigue and (24/7) general malaise

  1. From Reuters: “Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the public hospitals that treat roughly half [Mexico] admitted 46 patients with severe flu symptoms on Thursday, down from 212 patients on April 20. ‘This is encouraging,’ he said.

    Cordova said tests of samples sent to laboratories in the United States, Canada and Mexico had confirmed only 12 out of 176 deaths blamed on the H1N1 swine flu virus. ‘The number of confirmed fatalities will probably rise,’ he said.”

    While I fully agree with the analysis of how our constant deluge of information creates malaise, there is another reason for a tuning down of the hysteria (other than the pathetically short attention span of the average American … or human being, for that matter): this isn’t a pandemic, and won’t be a pandemic (knock on wood).

    That being said, the inundation of information about the flu has caused everyone and their cousin to immediately come down with swine flu, as opposed to, you know, regular flu. Or a cold. Or a fucking hangover. I think I’ve personally met at least a half dozen people who’re positive they’ve contracted swine flu, but that map still says Africa’s clean (which is probably bullshit – just no one bothers diagnosing it here).

    While I do think there was the short-lived potential for a serious spread of a strong flu, I don’t see how this has even begun to live up to the number of deaths caused by … oh, regular seasonal flu.

    (Also Reuters): “Normal seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the globe in an average year, including about 36,000 in the United States.”

    Granted, I have trouble believing/understanding that number, but still. I’m not going around wearing a protective mask just yet.

    Here’s the article I keep quoting: http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE53N22820090501

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