For the past two weeks, all of us have been inundated with non-stop hourly reports of the dreaded swine flu virus that's "sweeping" the United States and the world.
Now, it's almost always being referred to with the the "P" word - the dreaded "Pandemic."
The last time I checked, a pandemic was properly reserved to describe such catastrophic events as the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak that killed an estimated 70 to 80 million people worldwide...or the bubonic plague, which has killed as many as 200 million people in various outbreaks over the past seven centuries.
A pandemic, almost by definition, is reserved to describe an outbreak that's massive, uncontrollable and spreads like wildfire.
As of May 3rd, The World Health Organization says there were 898 swine flu infections in 18 countries. Of those, 226 cases were in 30 states in this country.
In any given year, there are approximately 36,000 deaths in the United States alone from "non-swine" flu strains.
Is there a disconnect here?
The use of the word "pandemic," at least at this point, is incorrect at the least and irresponsible at the most. Indeed, references to swine flu as a "pandemic" are as misleading as the use of the term "holocaust" to descrive anything other the millions who perished at the hands of the Germans during World War II.
It almost seems like we humans do not seem "human" unless we have something abstract to worry about.
Instead of losing sleep about the so-called "swine flu pandemic of 2009," may I suggest the several more realistic things? How about the thousands of people who die every year from:
- Not wearing seat belts
- Smoking cigarettes
- Eating unhealthy foods
- Refusing to get regular physicals
- Not exercising
The above five examples alone cost hundreds of thousands of lives per year. Should we not be more concerned with these? Or does it make more sense to worry about a new strain of flu that currently has stricken less than a thousand people and killed even less?
My prediction is that we will continue to be inundated with non-stop, dire predictions of swine flu for several more weeks to come. I also predict that the swine flu will mysteriously disappear when the next so-called crisis emerges - whether it's another plunge in the stock market, or a surprise Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities or gas prices once again hitting $3.00 per gallon just in time for the vacation season.