Tuesday, April 28, 2009

News Talk Online April 28, 2009: Striking A Balance In The Swine Flu Coverage

I can't listen to it any longer.

Some of the coverage, especially on cable TV, about the swine flu, is enough to make me - well - sick.

The breathless way such a potentially serious issue is being presented is unseemly. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite reporting the death of JFK this way?

What the hell has happened to news coverage that something that, on its own, is serious enough to warrant our full attention, needs to be hyped even more?

Some of the best coverage of the coverage can be found on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Which is on Comedy Central not CNN or Fox.

Some of the best coverage I've heard of the story itself has been on the BBC. I've heard some tough questions being asked by BBC radio presenters. But I've not been satisfied with all of the answers I've heard.

Today a BBC interviewer was pressing a World Health Organization spokesman to explain why closing off borders isn't such a good idea. His answers, it seems to me, defy logic.

As the interviewer pointed out in his follow up questions, the cases of swine flu that have occurred outside Mexico were introduced to those countries by people who had been visiting Mexico. So wouldn't it be prudent to shut down the border between the United States and Mexico?

The WHO spokesman pointed out that the border is porous which of course is an understatement. But that doesn't mean you can't minimize the threat.

And it is a threat, have no doubt about that. Because it is jumping from person to person. Meaning it can spread.

The Associated Press just released a piece that suggested that millions of people could die from the swine flu.

So what of the media coverage? Are you finding it informative or alarmist? Or, perhaps, both?

And what of the U.S. government's rejection of suggestions that the border with Mexico should be, at least temporarily, closed?

The fear I have is that once the genie is out of the bottle and this flu migrates in significant numbers it will be, obviously, too late.

The good news, thus far, of course is that the fatalities have been contained. But health officials have no explanation for the fact that, outside of Mexico, the swine flu cases have been milder than within its borders.

But do not lose sight of the fact that, unlike the deaths that typically occur with the "normal" flu strains, the fatalities in Mexico are not of the very old or the very young. Young, healthy people are dying. This may be the biggest factor that has public health officials worldwide fearing that the flu outbreak could soon become a pandemic.

We'll be discussing the media coverage and the government response to the swine flu at 5 PM New York time on News Talk Online on Paltalk.com


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tukatuka/3480777512/


Anonymous said...

I feel the media is being repetetive and people will become numb to the cautions. I agree Gary with the options of closing the US and Mexico borders as a simple solution however there's seems to be political entities that refuse and resist that option Whatever the condions are.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it FDR who said .... we have nothing to fear but fear itself? Well, I think that's true........... especially when that fear is stoked by the media.
Well, what do you expect........ there isn't a war, or a terrorist plot current and GM is getting a tad predictable so they're in a bit of a dead news quandry. Of course, there are the Government manoeverings, but this sensationalism caps it.
As far as Government is concerned in the UK they are certainly cashing in and using it as a means of bolstering their slipping popularity and saying how well prepared they are. They are being open about the virus being 'uncontainable', but also point out that it appears to weaken as it passes on. The Government advice has been to cancel any trips unless they are essential, and Travel agencies have taken this advice, many of them cancelling their flights till at least next Tuesday. They are also taking the precautions of screening incoming flights.
However, it certainly is easier to screen a small island nation - the problem in the USA is of infinitely more difficult.

Anonymous said...

I do believe the problem has the potential of getting far worse but, I don't believe closing off the borders is going to solve the problem.

Keeping in Mind the Virus mutates faster in warmer drier climates like in Mexico, The Virus in America has been rather weak in strength that might be beause its in cooler climates
Education and Consistancy is the KEY to battling this pandemic.


Anonymous said...

Well I agree that there is a problem that needs to be monitored and people do need to be on the watch for this threat.........BUT!!!! (always that irritating "but" huh?) How many "scares" have we had in the past. Approx. 1976 didn't we have a swine flu scare then? I'm pretty sure we did. I try not to fall to big into the "scare" tactics (as I call the media who constantly revolve their story) just be cautious about this but not paranoid. I do have a question that is plaguing me and I will no doubt start one heck of a stir with it but (again that "but")........Obama shook hands with someone and that person died of swine flu??? Am I correct here? And if so.....is Obama under quarantine???? I have not heard much about whether he is or not only heard bout the guy dieing after shaking his hand and no more. Can anyone elaborate on this I am curious.

Anonymous said...

The fact is that the governments of the world are incompetant thieves. They can do nothing. They have no adaquate reserves of vaccines or tamiflu, and they can't even patrol our border let alone close it.

Now we know why they focus on stockpiling FEMA coffins and enlarging mass burial chambers in cemetaries. They want it to happen to get rid of most of us. Al Gore and all of his liberal cohorts see us as a plague upon the planet that needs to die off, so the elite can survive.

Think YOU are gonna get a precious vaccine or tamiflu? Think again. While they are locked down in their cushy bunkers, we will be left to fend for ourselves. When society breaks down they will have their excuse to 'clean up the mess' by erradicating the ones who survive. But they will only take out those of us who are prepared. The ones who line up for the 'quarantine camps' will be saved for slave labor. Those of us who have guns and food and fight back will be squashed like bugs.

Ask why this flu strain has genes from avian, swine, and human flu. Nobody will answer except to say 'mother nature did it', which is BS and we all know it. This is the 'final solution' to overpopulation, global warming, and a manufactured economic crisis.

Anonymous said...

As I was reading your article I had the same thought as your first commenter. It is political of WHO to resist telling the US not to close its border. Had this started in any other area of the world that would have been WHO's first suggestion.

I say the constant coverage is fear mongering. thirty-six thousand people a year die from the flu in this country annually and we do not hear about it. Now under 100 student's become mildly ill in Queens and that is ALL we hear about. There is something unbalanced about this.

Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze and if you feel ill do not bring your germs in contact with other people. This is good sense and good manners.


Anonymous said...

Oops forgot to comment on the "border" situation........close them. This is the best solution, best excuse, best chance for this. YES it will help but should be done regardless of this health issue. But that's another story ;) Basically I do think the borders should be closed. I just worry what the government will use this whole thing for though.

Anonymous said...

Closing the borders will hurt the economy more and add to an already bad situation. I think they are trying to find a balance between two extremes.

Anonymous said...

I think the coverage is hyped and alarmist. I think the Mexican government was wise to close schools and take the precautions it did, though it seems they were rather slow in going quickly to the suspected source. This variety of flu is being spread from person to person but it can hardly be said to be 'jumping' - the # of deaths is 149 out of 28 million people, and this is not exactly a pandemic - a word I now cordially loathe, it has been thrown around so much in the last 4 days. The coverage makes it sound like we are living in the first few chapters of Stephen King's The Stand.

It is a very serious situation, yes. It could become more serious, certainly- but the breathless reporting on how bad it could be is just irresponsible journalism as infotainment, and it makes me mad.

sandra stephens

Anonymous said...

I am afraid the genie is totally out of the bottle. When you hear of new cases in new locations every day it is out.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. We should close the border temporarily except in certain cases where people will be screened for the flu first. I think all countries should now interview all people coming into or leaving their countries. In this country we should try to quarantine anyone who gets it. I know nothing about public health matters. But I do know that if this thing gets really big and deadly the government is going to catch a lot of heat for not sealing the borders.

Kathy Knechtges

Anonymous said...

I think our government has shown itself to be alarmingly impotent. They refuse to close the border, as if it's possible. And told us the redundant advice to wash our hands. In the meantime, Russia, Malaysia and other countries are acting like grown-ups and talking about quarantining and not letting infected people off of airplanes, among other things. We have become a 3rd world. It's official. Our government puts it's own self-interest first and does not look out for its own citizens.

Deborah Young

Anonymous said...

To begin with, I want to thank you for posting about this and I hope you get a CDC person on as a guest very soon. I am hearing all kinds of panic and nonsense surrounding this, including conspiracy theories and just plain false information.

Now, for the information.

This current strain of swine flu is proving deadly in Mexico for several reasons. One of them being that many people have not sought medical care. Another relates to a lack of proper sanitation in some areas of Mexico where the disease is thickest.

From what is known thus far, GENERAL UNIVERSAL PRECAUTIONS are the best prevention.

1) WASH THOSE HANDS! Running, soapy water for 20 seconds. If water isn't available, any of the alcohol-based hand sanitizers work just fine.

2) If someone is within six feet or less of you and sneezes or coughs, COVER YOUR OWN MOUTH with a hanky or your hand (if nothing else is available) and wash your hands as soon as possible.

3) Do not touch your eyes, mouth, or inside nostrils if you have been in hand-hand contact with an infected person.

4) Got the symptoms? STAY HOME.

5) If you are susceptible with a weakened immune system you may want to stay out of densely populated places or areas where there is close proximity to others, such as elevators.

This nonsense about shutting down transportation, etc., is merely feeding panic. This is a BACTERIAL strain with a viral antibody, not a viral one. Antibiotics DO WORK to treat it.

The new strain is sensitive to antivirals Tamilflu and Relenza and are best used w.in the first 48 hours of symptoms.

-LD McLellan

Anonymous said...

It would appear this is a health emergency which could grow more serious yet. In an emergency, it's prudent to take actions one would not normally consider to contain the threat until the worst danger is past.

Sensationalist news coverage definitely is not helpful in an emergency. Keeping our heads and keeping people informed with facts and definite steps to avoid infection when cases are discovered are the best weapons against panic.

Anonymous said...

well the department of health, as well as others have been watching for any virus arrival and preparing for such with first responders , triage care, development of vaccin etc, Be prepared! Inform the citizens, However with our now existent 24/7 TV cable and satellite, the news programs beat an old horse to death, so to speak. There is a Happy Medium, so that people do not numb out or Tune out, I see at the moment this has taken on the color of panic, in some broadcast news. Perhaps, because I have been witness to many riots and mob mentality, that I can sense the picture of inciting panic. A good example of that was the Fly-over yesterday of the white house Airforce one plane followed by a F-16 fighter , flying low over Manhatten .What was with that???? well I don't have to think long about that activity, It was called , and rightly so, "total Stupidity" it set off a panic and caused many the cost of the Searing memory of 9/11/01 No one was informed ahead of time, and for what idiotic reason , was the lame excuse from the Obama White House???This is the Real World, Not a rehersal for a Reality Show, Jamie_38

Alan Jasie said...

The big concern in closing the US-Mexican is the fear it will send to the Mexican people that the situation is much worse than it is. With no faith in their own government they will head north to the US and the border states will be overwhelmed by refugees. I don't believe that is a scenario we would like to see happen.

Alan Jasie

Anonymous said...

Yes, the media hypes it but perhaps for a good reason. People will be a lot more fastidious about washing their hands and covering their noses and mouth when they cough or sneeze. That's not a bad thing.

I just hope politicians don't use this for political reasons. So far, they haven't.

nancy bas mo 3agram said...

I think that the media shouldn't be scaring people into thinking that the swine flu is already a pandemic. What the media should do is educate people on what the swine flu is and how to contain it. As for shutting down the border between Mexico and America I don't think that it should be shut down completely, however people should be tested before they come out of Mexico just to make sure they don't have swine flu.

Anonymous said...

For God's sake, people, get a grip. It's the flipping FLU, not the Black Death or some slate-wiper virus.

Flu always passes from person to person, and there's always a certain portion of people who will die from it. I have yet to see figures that support closing borders or any other damned thing. As if that would help anyway: It's too late, since carriers have already left Mexico for home destinations in the rest of North America and Europe.

Sometimes, no doubt, flu can be a serious pandemic, like the Spanish Influenza circa 1918
that killed more people than the First World War. But holy moley, every time some new outbreak of some obscure strain is reported, the media, health officials and the public go into full panic mode. Remember bird flu from a few years ago? Right.


And yes, I blame the media mostly for the over-reaction.

Anonymous said...

It certainly is a little unsettling that they aren't moving to close the border until we have more information. I'm personally a little more worried about my life than the economy, but that's my personal take on it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we need to be closing borders, but we do need to be taking people's temperatures. Let's look at SARS a moment. Japan had no cases of SARS. Why? Because they got serious, instantly, about screening people entering their country. Other places across the world are taking temperatures. America is not.

As far as the coverage being hyped and alarmist - last time we had a major flu outbreak, 100 million people died worldwide and 28% of the population of America got sick. My great-grandmother died in the Spanish flu, so unlike most Americans who have never really heard of it, I've always been aware it happened. Americans are good at pretending bad things never happened.

I have immune system problems due to the drugs I take for lupus. I WANT all of YOU to panic. Please, panic. Stay home. Take your damn snot-nosed brats out of school and not to my grocery store where they can paw my vegetables before I eat them. Wash your hands. The possibility of a pandemic reminds me that I don't really like humans very much. I find myself remembering a discussion on Salon about a year ago about washing hands after using the bathroom. More than half of the men said they never washed their hands and weren't going to start because "It won't make ME sick not to wash my hands."

Allie Griffith

Anonymous said...

The swine flu could be manifesting itself more prominently in Mexico because other diseases hit their population harder as well. Santitation, diet, overcrowding, poor living conditions have a factor in this. TB is still a threat, there, too but is only a threat here in immunocompromised persons. Just my opinion.

Another possibility is that perhaps the symptoms are not severe enough to warrant the young to slow down and take care of themselves. West Nile Virus particularly attacks middle aged persons when they are still active and trying to work through the virus instead of taking time off.. .which is why most severe cases of West Nile occur in persons whose symptoms were not that severe.
Just a thought.

Brenda Gail