Philip Alcabes discusses myths of health, disease and risk.

Avoiding Panic: The Imagined Crisis

The Global e-Forum, a Japanese site interested in world issues, posed this question to a number of professionals in the public health and public policy field:

In dealing with the issue of a pandemic, if we stick to finding out how to block the infection completely, we may take extreme measures and, as a result, trigger a pandemic panic. Is there a way to avoid the pandemic without adding to people’s concern more than necessary? (full text of query here).

Since the question of balancing response with panic promotion is on many minds, this seems worth addressing.  But there’s the larger problem:  do we need even to ask this question?  Is there a crisis on hand with flu?

We think not.

“Marx claimed that great events of history occur twice, first as tragedy and then as farce,” we pointed out.

“The swine flu of 2009 certainly looks like a farcical replay of the great influenza outbreak of 1918…. [It’s] not a funny farce…but death from contagion is a normal part of life in an unpredictable universe.”  A few thousand deaths in the course of six months is lamentable, certainly.  But it’s hardly out of the ordinary for flu.

The collusion of officials and big corporations has been allowed to construct a global crisis. The farce is that the imagined flu crisis will benefit exactly the people who constructed it.

The vaccine manufacturers can expect to see a great expansion of markets (don’t miss Brownlee and Lenzer on flu immunization in the Nov. ’09 Atlantic).

The antiviral-medication manufacturers, the makers of Tamiflu especially, are already bringing in plenty of money for a treatment that is useful in rare clinical situations but has never been shown to stop the spread of flu in large populations.

Officials benefit, too.  They claim they must roll out flu vaccine and provide frequent information updates in order to  “prevent panic.”  And then they’ll look like they’ve done a good job — since, there being no crisis, people are staying calm.

Read the full post here.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 9th, 2009 at 10:46 am and is filed under Disease, epidemics, Health Professions, Narratives, Outbreaks, public health, Risk. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.