The Swine Influenza Strikes Fear in U.S.

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Author: Berit Anderson

As if our proud nation wasn’t already in a state of sufficient panic for economic reasons, health officials at the U.S. Center for Disease Control declared a state of national emergency on Sunday in response to the latest influenza epidemic-swine flu-which has proved deadly in Mexico. Yes, Mexican swine are the latest in a deluge of assaults on American well-being, leaving the best and brightest of America’s health professionals sweating all over their scrubs.

Of course we’ve had scares like this before. Last time around, it was a fowl-based virus that caused such widespread panic. Before that, SARS wrought terror into the hearts of Americans. Each time however, the health warnings petered out, leaving me and everyone else I know alive and well, whether or not they counted any flocks of Asian chickens among their closest friends. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to call this year’s health terror a media scam, I would say that news outlets have blown it slightly out of proportion.

A Monday New York Times article on the subject claimed that, “The number of deaths blamed on the flu in Mexico climbed to 149, while the number of confirmed cases in the United States doubled to 40, with 28 of them students from one New York City school.” Interestingly enough, it contained no clarifying statement to alert readers that the number of Mexican deaths they cited have not yet been positively identified as the result of swine flu specifically. In fact, the sentence seems deliberately deceitful, implying that both its first and second clauses refer to the same strain of influenza (So far as we know, they don’t).

According to a Monday update from the World Health Organization, Mexico has only confirmed 26 total cases of swine flu infection and 7 deaths at its hands. Of course, I can’t say I’m completely shocked at the discrepancy between the two reports. Every journalist this side of the Mississippi is bemoaning the death of print media and the economic losses associated with its passing. Lacking any Spitzer-esque scandal to report this week, the catchphrase of the New York media giant seems to have become, “Swine sells”. This doesn’t mean students should be running around campus licking handrails.

The Occidental community is especially at-risk for the spread of such diseases. As students in a close-knit residential community, we sleep together, eat together, study together and celebrate together. Cold season leaves our classrooms half empty. Those of us who do make it to classes spend our time hacking out our lungs and gnoshing on cough drops as if they were M&Ms. And though the epidemic has yet to prove deadly in the United States, it’s definitely knocking at our door.

As of Sunday, seven Californians had been diagnosed with swine flu, second only to New York. Furthermore, the travel mobility between California and Mexico remains unrestricted, so long as you aren’t too sick to walk across the border. Yes, our fair establishment is ripe for the picking-a fact which we would all do well to keep in mind. Any day now, the student body will be subjected to some kind of mass email pandemic briefing from Holly Nieto akin to last semester’s epic “ShakeOut” series.

Still, there’s no need to panic or don unsightly masks before leaving your dorm room. In fact, you don’t even have to give up your Sunday morning BLT, as the WHO reports that the disease isn’t transferable through the consumption of pork products. However, I would advise that students exercise a little caution. Handwashing is always a good option. On the other hand, prolonged make-out sessions with sick people may not be so smart. Furthermore, impromptu weekend trips to Tijuana should perhaps also be postponed until a later, more convenient date. With only two weeks left in my own Occidental career, I’m not planning on partaking in any kind of reclusive behavior to avoid the outbreak. However, I might try to pin down one of those attractive medical masks before the “Last Chance Dance” rolls around.

Berit Anderson is a senior DWA major. She can be reached at banderson@oxy.edu

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