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The Pollution of Swine Flu

People are making a big fuss about the swine flu H1N1 these days. Perhaps hundreds of people have died because of this particular flu, and that is certainly a bad thing. However, as Jim has pointed out, many more people die in typical flu outbreaks every year. It’s important to keep this outbreak in perspective.

A particularly useful perspective comes from a report released by the American Lung Association about the air quality in different parts of the USA. Air quality may not seem to bear much relation to the swine flu outbreak, at least not upon an initial consideration. Take pause, however, to consider that the swine flu is a respiratory illness, and it is likely to take strong hold in people who already have weakened respiratory systems.

The ALA’s report reveals that almost two thirds of Americans live in areas where the air is so contaminated that it compromises their health, and even causes people to die, year after year.

74 schools have closed across the United States because of the swine flu outbreak. Why, though, haven’t these same communities taken action due to the dangerously polluted air their students breathe on their playgrounds?

We see video of school officials wearing face masks, spraying antiseptic solutions on door handles in classrooms where students won’t return for days – and where the virus wouldn’t survive anyway. What we’re not seeing in these communities are parents taking public transportation instead of driving alone in their cars to work every day, conserving electricity that’s supplied by coal-fired power plants, or planting gardens instead of mowing lawns.

These may not seem like relevant responses to the swine flu outbreak, but Americans who have polluted lungs will be more likely to get seriously ill if they encounter the disease, and large numbers of Americans are already dying of preventable respiratory illnesses in communities the swine flu hasn’t even gotten close to yet. If we really care about preventing people from dying of respiratory illness, and we’re not just getting a sick thrill out of the feeling that we’re in a crisis, then we’ll start cutting back on activities that lead to the unhealthy air pollution that blankets most of our country.

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