|Swine Flu fuels an unnecessary headline – so far|
Over the last two days nine percent of all calls to NHS 24 in the UK were related to Swine Flu, yet there's only been two confirmed cases.That’s more than 10,000 calls for a disease that no one had died from and that the two people who actually have been diagnosed with it are making good progress to a full recovery. So why is our overworked hospital staff being inundated unnecessarily with ill conceived fears? The media.
Yet again as was the case with bird flu the media is stoking the fire of fear where rationality and reporting of the facts would serve everyone better in what could, but currently is far from a crisis. Surely it is up to the media to present the facts as they stand and not whip up the general populace into some sort of irrational fear of a disease that although potential deadly, is at this stage nowhere near as dangerous as crossing the road.
There may have been more than 100 deaths already in Mexico but remember this is a country with, compared to the UK or other Western European countries, a rudimentary health service at best, where many of the victims cannot simply pop into their local surgery at the first sign of a sniffle. With the proper care this disease, at least at this stage, will be no worse than a serious bout of common or garden flu.
Although the UN is now claiming it can’t be contained is there really the need for such alarm? Let’s hope not, but a little bit of reality is in order New cases have been confirmed as far afield as New Zealand and Israel. The US, Canada, Spain and Britain but no deaths have been reported outside Mexico. But throughout the media coverage perspective has been sadly lacking. And this is nothing new, when there was an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda last year the whole country nearly closed down. How many people died, 17, compare this to the 50 or so children that die there needlessly of malaria every day, why the hysteria, the media.
There is a serious danger of the fear of disease causing more damage than the disease itself. The centre of Mexico City was a virtual ghost down when the news broke out. One hundred and fifty people were dead, out of a population 20 million in one of the most violent cities in the world. There was statistically in the time that disease has been reported almost as many people murdered. Mexicans have stripped supermarket shelves bare in a burst of panic shopping amid fears the flu epidemic could force a nationwide lockdown and the world’s media have done little to dampen the flames of panic.
Families with masks are stocking up on bottled water, tinned food, vegetables and citric fruit in case they needed to stay at home and wait out the emergency. Among this rampant pessimism WHO chief Dr Keiji Fukuda is the voice of reason.
He said it was not inevitable that the outbreak would develop into a global epidemic - or pandemic - but countries should "take the opportunity to prepare".
If they do hopefully it will not develop into a crisis that results in 10s of thousands dead. Among this uncertainty the media has a responsibility to ensure that the context and severity of this outbreak is kept in perspective and doesn’t fuel the fire of panic any further than they have already.