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3 May, 2009 11:26

Media pigging out on swine flu?

As swine flu crosses the globe, fear is being whipped up in every densely populated center it reaches, but is the panic justified and are we really facing a lethal pandemic?

“You are the only reason we are freaking out!” speaks the voice of reason from comedian John Stewart pointing his finger at the world media. He's seemingly had enough of the global panic pandemic, and he’s not alone. Yet, is the media frenzy, in spite of its hype, actually helping people deal with the outbreak?

Millions of people die every year from various flu viruses. So why does this one appear to be apocalyptic? Wayne Madsen, an investigative journalist, describes how this epidemic is different from any other flu outbreak:

“This is a very unusual form of flu because it looks like it is a product of gene splicing. The flu contains elements of bird flu, two forms of human flu and various forms of swine flu. To some it doesn’t look as though this is naturally occurring.”

Some have even suggested it could be a biological weapon, or maybe a government conspiracy against pigs and airplanes.

One area that is cashing in on the fear is the healthcare sector and Madia Yasina, the head of a regional journalism club, thinks that it may be based on a PR stunt:

“If we remember the two epidemics – mad cow disease and bird flu – those were the battles between chicken and beef industries. At first chicken was in great demand and then the beef lobby took revenge with the bird flu hype,” Yasina explained.

How do we know when to worry and when to sit back? The world's worst pandemic at the beginning of the 20th century, Spanish Flu, went largely unnoticed, yet 50 million died in 1918.

In 1976, the first swine flu alert soon turned into a frenzy, prompting then US President Gerald Ford to make vaccinations mandatory. All in all, only one person died as a direct result from the flu, while dozens died or were left crippled because of the vaccine.

Professor Dmitry Lvov from the Russian Academy of Medical Science is convinced that the worry about the outbreak is justified:

“It is like a tsunami or a volcano eruption. Delaying it for a few hours, or maybe a day is possible but it isn’t preventable.”

Russia has no cases of swine flu reported so far, so the authorities are not making a big deal out of this ‘foreign outbreak’.

One Russian tourist still jetlagged from his trip to Mexico this week said no checks were made in transit or upon arrival, nevertheless, he was surprised that people who met with him didn’t wear a mask.

“People are making way too much out of it. Those who died in Mexico are among the poorest of the poor. I think the media just need another headline story, the economic crisis is boring everyone, so let’s scare all with the new global pandemic,” the tourist explained.

The psychosis has already affected the travel market, and the luscious beaches of Cancun are likely to stay empty for now, and until more is known about this virus, people worldwide will be beating it in a practical manner, or taking another trip to the doctor for an extra checkup.

Although the WHO says everybody should prepare for the worst, the best course of action is not to worry. And, of course, stay home when you’re sick and wash your hands often.