Swine Flu: Much Ado About Nothing?

April 30, 2009 / 12:12 pm • By Dr. Melissa Clouthier

While it is very unlikely you’ll die from Swine, aka H1N1, Flu, it is very likely that you’ll die. [History lesson here.]

The odds are clearly stacked against all humans. None yet has escaped death. Most of us, though, when pressed, would like to live as long as possible. Even many who think that life is too difficult and escaping seems like a reasonable option, don’t really want to die. They just don’t want to live like they’re living.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, mud slides, tsunamis, earthquakes and things like pandemics go to the core of what it means to be human: the instinct to survive. And when a person is threatened, primal reactions stir that even rational people cannot fight, and probably shouldn’t.

I’m reminded of the leadership at Canter-Fitzgerald [CORRECTION: Canter-Fitzgerald was in the first tower above the crash where they could not be saved. The decision to go back to work occurred in the second tower, resulting in death.] faced with the terrifying reality that a plane tore through the building next door. The primal impulse at that point would be to run and to escape. It isn’t rational. It isn’t logical. But sometimes fleeing does ensure survival. Instead of being guided by their reptilian brain, these people stayed. Some submitted to friends or authorities against their better judgment. Some were too afraid to face their own terror and so ignored it. They intellectualized the situation. They died.

So, for all the glorification of the frontal lobe and human reasoning, humans survive today because their ancestors didn’t ignore their primal instincts to fight or flee a threat. Swine Flu is a threat. How serious a threat is Swine Flu? No one knows. How can they? This flu strain is new and it’s novelty, itself is terrifying. Could be a slate clearing pandemic like in the 1300s that was dismissed and then, six months later, killed half the world’s population?

Fact: Swine flu is spreading around the globe. It has now been found in every part of the United States. There are cases throughout Europe, South America, North America, Australia, and now, New Zealand.

Fact: This flu will not be contained. No one is willing to cut off commerce during these economical times. And even if it was, it takes only one person to spread it.

Fact: Quarantine works. Densely populated places like schools and military barracks make for easy spread of disease. It is sensible to quarantine people who have been infected or exposed.

Fact: People are stupid. Even people who should know better, will act irrationally. People who are overcome with fear will spread that fear with words and actions. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook are filled with information…and misinformation.

Fact: You can help yourself. A person can do things for himself and his family to avoid the threats from disease. Wash hands. Get sleep. Eliminate sugars. Eat healthy. Exercise moderately.

Stay happy. Fear should be a short-lived emotion that saves a life. Chronic fear is both unhelpful and actually harmful to the immune system.

Also, as a practical matter, every family should have enough food to make it through a couple weeks. Anyone in Texas who has endured hurricanes knows it’s just good sense to keep extra food on hand. We are all too accustomed to having access to whatever we need whenever we need it. That’s a false comfort. When people freak out, or if a pandemic were to actually spread, guess what? Target workers aren’t going to be motivated to come to work in the service of the greater good. Plus, no one is going to want to go into public.

So, is the Swine Flu scare-worthy? My gut says no, no more than any other flu. But what do I know? Nothing more than anyone else spouting opinions. The fact is, no one knows yet, how this flu will manifest.

In absence of solid knowledge, we must follow our instinct for survival guided by our rational self-interest. We’re all going to die. Most likely, we will not from Swine Flu.

Since death and taxes are assured, I’d suggest that you prepare as best as you can for Swine Flu and focus the rest of your energy fighting taxes. There’s no doubt you’re going to die. And that you’ll be taxed to pay for this government expansion is beyond dispute. Make a difference where you can. Action will help mitigate the sense of helplessness when facing the unknown.

Cross-posted at RightWingNews

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  • “The odds are clearly stacked against all humans. None yet has escaped death.”

    On the other hand, Melissa, it is a fact that most of the people who have ever lived are still alive today!

  • Some solid advice there, especially about getting some food in. In the UK we rarely have events that interrupt the super market delivery, at least not since socialism in the 70’s. People here aren’t prepared.

    We just had our first human to human transmission and the authorities are clearly struggling to keep up already. Our best hope is dumb luck, because dumb government just makes things worse.

  • newton

    I don’t have a problem regarding storing food for two weeks. There’s plenty of provisions in my pantry and freezer right now.

    We also have plenty of hand sanitizers, Lysol spray, Clorox wipes and spray, plenty of soap, etc. We haven’t yet bought masks. Maybe those are flying off the shelves as I write. We haven’t gone to many places here in the Houston area this week – only to the supermarket and a park to exercise with Stroller Strides. That’s it.

    Yet, my mother is hysterical and consumed by fear: she thinks we’re being “irrational” and that we don’t know how to protect our kids. (!) We have made our own preparations, yet she thinks that’s not enough. What does she want from us? To live like hermits? After she went on and on, I gave her a firm “Calm down!”, and then she hung up the phone. Unbelievable.

    Fear is a motivator to be protected and prepared. I know that because I was told recently that my new neighborhood is “Rattlerville USA” (read: rattlesnakes) during the summer. So, I forced my husband to buy snake pellets to spray around the house, and I don’t leave my little daughters alone in the backyard, or the front yard. Ever.

    Fear can ensure your survival, that’s true. But to paralyze you into not having a life… That’s not healthy.

  • We live in a razor-thin interface between hard vacuum and molten rock, and we obsess about safety.

    And, as I mentioned in my own blog (which appears to be down now; I need to check on it tonight) your mother was right. Wash your hands.

  • Trish

    Rule #1: Anything can kill you.
    Rule #2: Something will.

    Here’s something I just learned: most of the masks on the market won’t protect you from other people’s germs. They protect other people from yours. If you get the swine flu, you may want to wear a mask to protect others, but you’ll need a particular type of mask to protect yourself from them.

    I personally won’t buy any masks. We have a good stock of food; otherwise we’ll just take normal precautions.