04 May 2009

Health Scares, and a silly, uncritical, exploitative media.

How many times do we need to go through this nonsense? I am not sure what the frequency of the major health scare is but it cannot be less than one or two every couple of years. SARs, Ebola, West Nile, Mad Cow, and now to the great pantheon of non events I suspect we will be adding Swine Flu.

Even NPR hasn't been above this kind of sensational reporting. Newscasters all over were discussing the spread of the disease in Mexico (At the time they were breathlessly reporting that 700 cases had been confirmed in Mexico, I don't remember how many deaths) and then more breathless curiousity, and speculation about what would happen in the US when the Swine Flu really got its legs under it here. No mention whatsoever was mentioned of the generally better standards of cleanliness and quality of life found here in the US vs Mexico. This is incredibly germane to the discussion. What was clear by the tone though was that we really needed to be worried. But the numbers in the US at the time of the reporting. At the time of that airing, they reported 126 confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu, and one confirmed death. That is .79% of the total infected at that time. The death itself, while sad, fits the profile of most flu deaths. It was an infant. We get no demographic details either. The very young and the very old tend to be the most susceptable to disease in general and the flu, and other respiratory pathologies specifically. I kept waiting to hear why this flu was going to be the one to really worry about, but such details were not provided. Just more of "OH MY FUCKING WORD! SWINE FLU!"

The problem with all this exploitative ratings grabbing "disease journalism" is that it is going cause the public to potentially miss the boat when the CDC, or NIH or some other such body actually has a press release we should all care about. I worry that people are going to grow a bit weary of being scared out of their skins every couple of years and having no substantial health crisis to show for it.

So CNN, MSNBC, FOXnews, NPR to name just a few, do you think, before you start running around screaming "HOLY FUCKING SHIT MY CHRIST WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE OF DISEASE X, Y, OR Z," you might just try taking a step back and get all the facts in order? Would it be possible for you to educate the public on what the statistics actually mean? Quite being twittering, know-nothings that are too too lazy to do a proper bit of reporting.


What percentage of the US was infected with H1N1 when I heard my first story on the subject? At the time there were about 165 people confirmed to be infected. What percentage of the US population is that? Assume 270 million people in the US. (165/270 million)100 gives you the percentage. Go do it. At the time of the story one person had died in the US from the disease. (1/270 million)100. Should we be worried yet?


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