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6 May, 2009 05:16

Swine-scared world

Around 1700 people in 21 countries are now thought to be infected with swine flu worldwide, and the death toll from the disease is climbing slowly, prompting countries not to relax just yet.

In Mexico, where the outbreak is said to have started, services are returning to normal.

But the new H1N1 virus is still causing mass panic and hysteria around the world, and explanations for that are numerous.

It's passed from human to human, and is similar to the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918, which killed a hundred million people or more.

But, like always, there is also a simple and obvious reason.

“People are so scared of this new virus precisely because it's new. And facts, figures, or reassurances won't matter – if it's new it means there is no cure, and that gives them all the reasons to panic,” explains Vladimir Popov, the Head of Virusology Department at the State Institute of Standardization and Control of Medical Products.

And panic is definitely in evidence.

In Paris, airports are on the verge of gridlock, because employees refuse to unload bags from Spain or Mexico.

Singapore is putting all arriving Mexican tourists into 7-day quarantine, and worldwide, the most common accessory today is a mask.

All this in spite of the fact that each year, over 200,000 people die of regular flu, while swine flu, as it's been dubbed, has claimed 27 lives.

But it is better to be safe than sorry – and despite reassurances that eating pork is not a health threat, Russia has given imported pork the chop.

We've added Great Britain to the list of countries we have stopped importing pork from,” announced Russia’s Chief Veterinary Inspector Nikolay Vlasov, “Those previously on the list are Mexico, Spain, and some areas of the USA and Canada. There are simply no guarantees that the meat is safe and until we are sure, there will be no imports from those countries.”

Theories abound as to how and why this virus appeared to spread faster than the flu itself.

Al-Qaeda terror plots, top-secret lab experiments, and pharmaceutical companies aiming for financial gain are all among the suspects.

Pork has given people food for thought. And at a time when the global economy is struggling, the H1N1 virus appears to be the perfect, albeit potentially deadly, decoy. Losing jobs is no longer at the forefront of everyone's minds. But calling in sick, on the other hand, will definitely cause your colleagues to worry.