Listening to mainstream news reports, you might think that the American people are entering a panic about the new swine flu. People who called into the Diane Rehm show on NPR this morning were speculating that the virus was created by Donald Rumsfeld for the sake of profit, and asking whether they ought to wear face masks. Alarmed reporters cite a death toll for the virus that may now be over 150.
In a typical year, however, tens of thousands of people die from the flu. It’s true that the Mexican swine flu does appear to be more deadly than the H5N1 bird flu virus, the last version of the flu we were warned could become an international epidemic. Still, that’s a pretty low bar. Only a handful of people die from the H5N1 virus we were warned about in any given year.
There were the same number of children on my son’s school bus this morning as on any other school day. Mothers walked their little children in open strollers on the sunny sidewalk in front of my house. My daughter’s preschool is exercising no unusual precautions. People are out in the stores just as their ordinarily would be, and now that I’m in the airport, I’m not seeing anyone wearing a face mask.
It looks like the main story about the swine flu is that there isn’t much of a story yet. Perhaps this virus will visit plague upon us, as some Rapture Ready Americans are hoping. My guess is that we’re mostly going to be just fine.