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Has the swine flu been overhyped?

  • yes

    Votes: 58 89.2%
  • no

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FOX News Blogs » FOX Forum » Forum Contributor
May 2nd, 2009 2:06 PM Eastern
DR. MARC SIEGEL: Swine Flu - It's Not the Killer You Think It Is

By Marc Siegel, M.D.
FOX News Medical Contributor/Associate Professor, NYU School of Medicine/Author, "False Alarm; the Truth About the Epidemic of Fear and Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic"

I was listening to a conference call on Friday, organized by the NYC Health Department about - you guessed it - swine flu (now known as H1N1). The discussion centered around "Influenza-like illness" and it was soon clear to me that…
1) It is a late influenza season this year and some of these illnesses are from the garden-variety mild influenza B.
2) A lot of the so-called "influenza cases" are really just reports by worried people with the sniffles. When all is said and done, it is looking more and more like H1N1 (a designation which describes two proteins on the surface of the flu virus which help it spread) will end up being a mild, over-hyped virus despite the fact that it is new.
In the current swine flu scare the virus is assumed to be a more powerful human killer than it actually is. In reality it appears to losing virulence as it spreads human to human and is not that transmissable, and is NOT becoming widespread.
As I described in my book "False Alarm; the Truth About the Epidemic of Fear," there is a history of hysterical ovverreaction to health risks in this country especially as evidenced by the swine flu fiasco of 1976, SARS in 2003 and the bird flu scare in 2005.
In each case, Some of this overreaction was due to a distortion of the scientific information about the virus itself. In 1976, when a swine flu virus appeared to kill a military recruit and then be present in the blood of 500 others (who never got sick) this led to a massive hysteria and vaccination program for a pandemic that never occurred. Forty millon Americas were vaccinated and ascending paralysis (also known as Guillain Barre Syndrome) was associated with recipients in close to 1,000 patients.
The fears that prompted the mass vaccination were due to the ghost of the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed at least 50 million worldwide. In 1976 and 2003 SARS, and again in 2006 with the bird flu, false assumptions were made connecting the memory of 1918 with another potential scourge.
Back in 1976 the prevailing theory was that pigs had been the source of the 1918 Spanish Flu, which was later disproven but served as an impetus for the hysteria at the time. In 2005, the knowledge that the 1918 scary virus was "bird-like" led the fearmongers to point a finger at an equally scary H5N1 virus that was killing millions of birds. But lost in the panic was the knowledge that human pandemics had likely never been caused by an H5 virus before.
In the current swine flu scare the virus is assumed to be a more powerful human killer than it actually is. In reality it appears to losing virulence as it spreads human to human and is not that transmissable, and is NOT becoming widespread.
The vast overreaction to this virus and its potential has severe economic consequences as it did previously in 1976, 2003, and 2006. This time the hysteria may lead to billions of dollars lost to the travel industry, tourism, the Mexican economy, and to closing schools due to hysterical children and overreacting nurses. Vice President Biden's statement that we should all avoid planes, trains, and crowded places was not at all consistent with the very low prevalence of the virus. It made me think he had become disoriented and suddenly thought he was back in 1918! Even President Obama's statement that we should wash our hands (of course we should, they are loaded with bacteria and viruses of all kinds) sent the wrong message that there is far more of this particular virus around than there actually is. (The chance that this virus is on your hands as you read this is extremely close to zero).
Despite the fact that you can't get this virus from eating pork, Egypt is destroying its pigs and several other countries are not importing pigs from the U.S. or Mexico. This is another form of hysteria.
Perhaps the greatest overreaction of all is the new pandemic alert system that the World Health Organization developed in response to the 2005 bird flu scare (an alert system developed in response to a scare??). Though it is reasonable to call a pandemic for an extensive spread of a new strain of killer flu to many parts of the world at once, what is sorely lacking in this alert system is any counting of actual cases or number of deaths before raising the alert level. As a result, we may end up with the first pandemic in history with less than a thousand deaths. Consider that the last pandemic, the 1968 Hong Kong Flu, which was controlled with the help of vaccines, public health measures, and treatments for secondary infections with antibiotics, killed 750,000 worldwide.
It look like H1N1 is another pandemic of mostly of fear - something that is stronger and more infectious than any virus.
Marc Siegel M.D., a FOX Medical Contributor, is the author of "False Alarm; the Truth About the Epidemic of Fear and Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic."
 

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Well, the news coverage I've seen - BBC radio and internet - it hasn't been overhyped. The general impression is "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst." This seems sensible to me. Yes, we're probably not all going to die of swine flu, but the outbreak could be serious, like the one in 1918, which started off mild, but got very serious.

It's better to take it seriously now, just in case. Shame about the Egyptian pigs though.
 

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Honestly, I think the hysteria is going to go on for another few weeks, and the swine flu will be history just like every other epidemic scare.

That's just my theory though. Who knows?
Better to be safe than sorry, I guess.
 

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Yes, it has been overhyped.

Thanks for the article. It's nice to hear someone with a clear thinking perspective on this. And just as a shameless plug, go pick-up his book False Alarm if you haven't read it, the timing couldn't be better.
 

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Yes. Well, all I know is I'm sick of hearing about it. Pardon the pun. I figure they'll have made a documentary off this in a few months, then turn it into a box office success. *cough*SARS*cough* Not that that was a hit...
 

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My son's got the flu (I assume it's not swine flu, but who knows.), and I called the nurse just to see what kind of symptoms would warrant a trip to the doctor, and she said basically that this swine flu isn't any worse than any other flu, it's just that since no one has immunity yet, there's the possibility of large numbers of people getting it. That made sense to me. I think it's definitely overhyped. It doesn't sound any scarier than any other flu.
 

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Depends on what media you're talking about - I haven't really noticed too much hype on the internet. I usually just look at Google News though.
 

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36,000 deaths in the US due to flu in an average year.
1 death in the US due to Swine Flu.

Do the math!
 

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"Outbreak"... "pandemic"... you know the media latches onto those words... attention-grabbing topics = ratings for news telecasts = why we're hearing about it so much.

So far, yes, it does seem overhyped..
 

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"The boy who cried wolf" flu.

Everytime they hype a flu, and its not as bad as they say it is, people wont believe it next time.

So if a really bad flu happens one day, and no-one believes it, we can blame the media!
 

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Sounds like a good reason to kill your TVs - TV news is really atrocious. I used to love watching TV, but they'd always advertise new shows, and I'd want to see them too. Most shows are on the internet nowadays - I just watch Lost and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and even that is too much sometimes.
 

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I haven't seen any news stations overhyping the swine flu out break, I've seen people on the net doing so though.
 

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I've been saying from the beginning that this was another over-hyped media event - using fear to get people to keep watching their garbage reporting. It's been done so many times before (Y2K, SARS, Bird Flu, Conficker worm) I don't know who's left to buy into it anymore. The media is like the boy who cried wolf.

Edit: Just noticed Downbutnotout used the "boy who cried wolf" anology too, didn't meant to steal from ya!
 

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Have you tried Google news? It's kind of bland but it tends to avoid hype.
http://news.google.com/

It's actually so bland that I often don't even want to look at any of the articles. Which is probably a good thing - I've got enough other things to be doing. Whereas with MSNBC or something I usually wind up reading at least an article or two.
 

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I was going to vote "yes", but having watched a TV documentary recently about viruses, I voted "no". It was pretty scary. Experts on viruses from the WHO, the CDC and other countries were interviewed. They are taking this very seriously. The 1918 flu epidemic apparently started with a relatively small number of isolated cases, then came back with a vengeance. This swine flu may not be killing many people now, but there are no vaccines against it and it could mutate. With people travelling as much as they do, it would apparently be impossible to prevent a killer virus from spreading quickly around the globe.
 

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I've said it was overhyped from the beginning. Like its been said, there are tens of thousands of deaths from the regular flu each year.

I don't doubt that a flu pandemic can happen and pose a great threat, but of the cases in the US only a handful of cases have even needed hospitalization.
 

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The British Government has started distributing NHS Information Leaflets about Swine Flu, and they're really useful - we got ours in the post this morning.

They explain a lot and, unlike the media has a tendancy to do, they haven't hyped anything up. It's good to know that our Government has been planning for a flu pandemic for years, and the WHO says that our plan is one of the best in the world.
 

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The British Government has started distributing NHS Information Leaflets about Swine Flu, and they're really useful - we got ours in the post this morning.

They explain a lot and, unlike the media has a tendancy to do, they haven't hyped anything up. It's good to know that our Government has been planning for a flu pandemic for years, and the WHO says that our plan is one of the best in the world.
we didnt get ours. i was disapointed. lol. heard about it on the radio round my parents, and started looking forward to the postman turning up. yay.. no leaflet :cry
i barely know anything about it. apart from if anyone every accuses one of us at work of having swine flu when we cough/sneeze, that i encourage the staff member to oink/squeel like a pig :p
 

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we didnt get ours. i was disapointed. lol. heard about it on the radio round my parents, and started looking forward to the postman turning up. yay.. no leaflet :cry
i barely know anything about it. apart from if anyone every accuses one of us at work of having swine flu when we cough/sneeze, that i encourage the staff member to oink/squeel like a pig :p
They've only just started distributing them, and I think we got ours before the rest of the UK because the two cases of swine flu here are in Scotland - and we live in Scotland.
 
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