But what if it was Elf flu?
One of the best Simpsons quotes has got to be Homer’s reply to Ned Flanders after being lectured about the patches of Crabgrass on his lawn: “There is nothing wrong with Crabgrass! It’s just has a bad name that’s all! Everyone would love it if it were called, eh, Elfgrass!”
I’m beginning to think swine flu is the Crabgrass of influenza strains.
The free afternoon newspaper MX in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane had a great headline on Friday: Flu Spread Fear. I like it because you read it (well I did) as: Flu Spreads Fear.
Now I’ve no gripe with the choice of swine flu on the front page (the original moniker of Mexican Swine Flu is my preferred title but apparently swine flu is Mexico’s gift to the world now) and I’ve no doubt health authorities and Government are acting in the interests of public health when they force more than 2000 people from a a cruise ship to quarantine themselves for a week after two children on board tested positive for the virus. However it’s the response by Government to the swine flu outbreak when compared to similarly dangerous health scares which is confusing.
The same mX story stated that according to the latest World Health Organisation figures 11,034 people had been infected worldwide with 85 deaths. In the winter of 2007 the much less hyped and domestic sounding “Brisbane Strain” of flu killed at least seven people, six of which were children. British reports somewhat alarmingly linked the Brisbane flu to up to 800 deaths caused by the onset of pneumonia.
Speaking from the perspective of somebody who lost five kilos and had to spend almost three weeks hallucinating in bed sick with the Brisbane strain, my attitude to swine flu is similar to that of a superhero staring down a super-villain he’s defeated before: “You will be tough pig-man but I know now I can beat you”.
Health honchos obviously fear if swine flu is given a decent run in the park things could be just as bad or worse than the Brisbane strain, but why are measures like closing schools and cancelling weekend footy matches necessary in one outbreak but not the other? Especially given there was evidence that the outbreak two years ago was directly responsible for the death of seven people and swine flu’s looking pretty lame with a big fat zero next to its name.
Here’s another example the haphazard implementation of these standards: the outbreak of whooping cough in NSW. Cases of the potentially deadly and highly contagious disease in babies have gone through the roof this year, growing by almost 5000 cases with a child dying in northern NSW in March. The outbreak seems to have made its way down to the Victorian border and as Greater Southern Area Health Service director of public health Tracey Oakman said:
“Across NSW we’ve seen an outbreak of more serious proportions than swine flu. . . We have had a death from whooping cough this year and we haven’t had one from swine flu.”
Where are the crèche and day care centre closures? It should be noted any risk of contracting whooping cough can be pretty much be eliminated by a simple free vaccination, and a rise in people not vaccinating their kids against it is largely responsible for the increased outbreak.
Closing schools and delaying a few cranky retirees from getting on their cruise may well be necessary to stop kids or oldies dying. But before Health Minister Nicola Roxon uses the flu outbreak to seize control of the country with a Junta of white coated experts, should there not be a bit of clarification on why this needs to be done with the outbreak of one life threatening virus and not the others?
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