Probably not. I have no idea how serious this swine flu outbreak will be. As I noted yesterday, it could evolve to cause less severe symptoms or more severe symptoms–right now, nobody knows for certain. But I find the possible overreaction by the public to be disturbing (I think the public health system has adopted the right tone–and kudos, in part, to Richard Besser. Gerbeding who?). Why?
Every year, roughly 36,000 people die from seasonal (or annual influenza). That’s double HIV/AIDS deaths. But nobody gets paranoid about handwashing (WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS!!). There’s no serious awareness of ‘coughing’ hygiene. It’s just shrugged off, even though a successful vaccination strategy would save tens of thousands of lives. Clearly, nobody cares about these deaths: if the public as a whole did care, vaccination would be a sacrament.
But suddenly TEH SWINEY FLOO emerges and suddenly everybody becomes a public health maven. I don’t mean to downplay the potential seriousness of this particular influenza, but, so far, it’s in roughly the same mortality ballpark as most other influenzas. There needs to be vigilance, but, if this influenza burns out (or even if it doesn’t), we’ll still have to deal with the seasonal influenza pandemic (which is what it should be called).
I would hope that swine flu could be used as a ‘teachable moment’ to educate the public about how they can help limit the spread of annual influenza through handwashing. I would also hope the public might realize just how important vaccination is–funny how not having a vaccine makes people a little less susceptible to anti-vaxxer bullshit.
But I’m not going to hope these things because I don’t think they will happen.