June 1, 2009
Our View: Swine flu threat fizzled, but be vigilant
It's pretty clear now that the swine flu calamity predicted by the
world's health officials won't come to pass.
Though outbreaks continue to pop up, only a few thousand cases of H1N1
have been reported, with just 11 American deaths linked to the virus.
It's a far cry from the wave of death and illness that was predicted.
But it's no accident that the toll hasn't been higher. And the
institutions that are being criticized for inflating the threat posed
by swine flu really should be thanked for keeping the outbreak under
That begins with Mexico, where the first cases of flu were reported.
As soon as the World Health Organization and Mexican officials learned
of the nature of H1N1 -- a virus resistant to flu vaccines and that
threatens normally healthy people, unlike most flus -- the government
essentially shut down the country.
Schools were closed. Commerce came to a halt as people were warned to
stay home -- and this in Mexico City, with a metro population of 19
million. Health officials quarantined the ill and got them immediate
As a result, Mexico's economy lost tens of billions of dollars; the
total still is being calculated. But the flu's spread was brought
nearly to a halt.
The same thing happened in the United States -- though to a far lesser
degree because fewer cases were reported here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued warnings about
the dangers posed by swine flu. Those dangers included the possibility
of pandemic with thousands or even tens of thousands of deaths.
Municipal and school leaders planned for local infections. When they
happened, at least in initial stages of the threat, schools sent kids
home and closed their doors. Later, as in the D.C. Everest School
District late in May, sick students simply were kept home and
facilities were sanitized.
The media and health organizations have taken some heat for the
attention they paid to swine flu. Some of the criticism might be
justified -- comparisons of this flu's potential death toll to the one
that followed the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, for example, were
Even emerging-world health systems, such as those in Mexico, are far
more capable of responding to an emergency today than even advanced
nations in Europe were during World War I. Technology for spreading
warning messages, medications, sanitation -- it all is vastly better
than a century ago.
But modern success in handling medical emergencies also poses an
enormous threat. Swine flu fizzled, so the temptation will be to
dismiss warnings next time a pandemic threatens.
That would be a mistake -- just as it's a mistake not to head to the
basement every time the tornado siren sounds, even though the last 10
times it went off, a funnel cloud didn't touch down.
Health officials are paid to assess the threats we face and warn us
accordingly. We'd be foolish to ignore their direction.
AWARE has a good start
About 100 people showed up Thursday to the public forum hosted by the
All Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education in Wausau. That's a good turnout
for the first of what will be several statewide forums AWARE will
host. We applaud those people who cared enough to participate. Next,
let's translate that paticipation into action by talking to your
legislators, and to others in the community, about the best way to
address the culture of alcohol abuse. It's past time to find a
solution to this problem.