Monday, August 17, 2009


More than a post about H1N1 or swine flu (though the porcine relation is now diluted: it is a quadruple reassortant virus. But swine flu is easier to spell!) this is about how we cannot entirely trust the sources of information we think we can rely on and how it is humanely infeasible to verify the truth about everything we hear. There has been a panic about H1N1 in India. I don't watch TV and surely not news channels. Hence, I get to know about Britney Spears and H1N1 through friends (and the news givers sift themselves into personas!). I do read the newspapers sometimes and read enough to know that I am supposed to panic. Those who know me, know that I don't ever panic. I didn't even now but I took this rather seriously and wore a face mask while travelling in the bus. Yesterday, I was in the midst of coughs and clearing throats and realised that I noticed these more than I would on any other day. I even came home and had a bath. Then I decided to collect info for myself.
If I told you that up to 500,000 people died per year due to a disease and that is mostly in the developed countries, wouldn't you take it seriously?
If I told you that this disease occurs twice a year wouldn't you take it seriously?
If I told you that the disease causing virus keeps getting "better" nearly every year and vaccines have to be continuously modified to accommodate this development, wouldn't you be worried?
If you answered yes to all of the above, then why aren't the news channels and newspapers making a hype about the seasonal flu which has struck nearly every one of us every year? The WHO provides some good information about H1N1. You could find a lot of info about Seasonal Influenza, too, on their site.
Media has made us believe that H1N1 is unusually fatal. This is not true. Media has probably made us believe that this is not curable. This is not true. Media (in India) has made us believe that medicines are the only recourse. This, I believe, is not true (I will explain shortly). Media has also made statements about the inadequacy of medical supplies in India. This appears to be false.
The primary cause of concern is the newness of this virus. Had this been around for a while, people would be less worried. Why? Because the health industry would have come up with a hundred tablets and a couple of vaccines. WHO mentions that standard drugs which are inhibitors of neuraminidase can work, as H1N1 belongs to the family of Influenza type A. There are enough drugs in the market which belong to that category. Don't pop pills. The novelty of this virus has created a panic attack for misplaced reasons. My point is, in spite of the seasonal flu being so common and treated for so many decades, it still kills several thousand people per year! Hence, flu (of any sorts) can be fatal: some for known reasons and some for unsolved reasons. That is the truth (factual).
So why panic about H1N1? Because our helplessness with it is more than with normal seasonal flu. Which means that we can only be worried about the lack of medical advancements. Which implies something that I will not get into in this post.
I have had flu quite a few times in my life and my most commonly employed cure is to do nothing. I would let the fever come, shake up my schedule and go. Most ailments have been handled thus in my life. Doesn't make it the best approach, just something I do. It appears that H1N1 too could be tackled in a similar manner. There are Swine Flu Parties which take this approach to the next level! Has any news channel/newspaper mentioned this possibility? But it is fairly common treatment for seasonal flu. I agree that H1N1 is fairly new (though it also struck in 1918) but most strains of flu are.
I cannot deny that the media has created a wide awareness about H1N1. Nevertheless, I feel that the panic that it has instilled is unwarranted. To report merely on the deaths than all the number of people cured and statistical information creates panic which is pointless. It is important to maintain hygiene but wearing masks is taking things a little farther than required. There is always going to be a virus around. Are we going to wear a mask always?
WHO has marked this pandemic mild to moderate in severity. Medicines exist for this disease. Simple hygiene suffices. It is very easily and methodically curable. The fatality rate is probably on par with any other kind of flu (avian flu is an exception). So, why panic? Why hype this one disease to levels that make it seem as dangerous as an Ebola fever!?
So whose responsibility is it to provide factually correct and educated information to the public? In whom do we place trust? Should the media have a protocol about presenting potentially inciting (for the wrong reasons) information? I still recall the manner in which the Taj hotel incident was covered.
Point is, if our only sources of information are hyped, biased and/or inaccurate, then what do we do?

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I don't take pills/recommend them for flu/cold/fever.. I trust that my body will fight back, and if it doesn't, I couldn't care less. There are too many of us around. :)

    My colleague's daughter has been advised not to come school for two weeks, because she was spotted coughing! ( she is just allergic to pollen in air )I find it very sad that the child has to miss so much of school for such a trivial reason. When I was in school, I gave an exam sitting next to my friend who had chicken pox and I emerged unscathed!

    I remember reading an article on "The bubble-wrap generation" in the Reader's Digest, I guess we are turning into something like that.