With little control over the advancement of H1N1 swine flu, we have to wonder: should we really fear the swine flu?
No. Fear is unnecessary. But a healthy respect is definitely called for.
A "Public Health Emergency"
It does sound frightening -- those words -- "Public Health Emergency." And calling swine flu a public health emergency most definitely gets our attention.
Behind those words, though, is the fact that the actual declaration is really a vehicle for making money available and suggesting that local governments begin using their predetermined plans for managing public health problems. It doesn't mean there is a crisis.
Let those words remind you to take precautions yourself. But don't be afraid of them.
Flu is Flu
H1N1 swine flu is one more strain of flu. It sounds scary because it originally came from pigs, and that creates some mystery.
But it behaves like other flus. We catch it the same way, and we can protect ourselves the same ways. We can make choices to protect ourselves and our families.
Do you fear the seasonal flu? Probably not. And this flu is really no more frightening than seasonal flu. Seasonal flu takes tens of thousands of lives each year. Deaths from H1N1 swine flu have not approached those of seasonal flu.
Pandemic Describes Geography Only
We hear the word "pandemic" used by the media and that reminds us of history class in high school. It sounds like it means millions of people might die. But that's not what it means at all!
Pandemic simply means it is found large groups of people in many countries around the world. Pan comes from Latin and Greek meaning across or around. Demos means populations or people. Pan-demic. Geography and demographics. Not deaths.
Learn more about the definition of pandemic and how it could affect you in the 21st Century.
What About Those Face Masks?
When I see those masks on the people on TV, it reminds me of SARS and bird flu in China a few years ago. Again, that was scary because so many of the people who contracted those diseases did die.
Masks just keep the wearers from inhaling the water droplets that might be breathed out by someone who has the flu bug. Or when worn by someone who has any upper respiratory disease, they may contain some of the spread of that illness. They aren't a bad idea, but they don't indicate that the flu is any more dangerous than any normal flu.
Thousands of people die of seasonal flu each year, but we don't all wear masks.
Why Does It Seem Like We are Unprepared?
Another reason some fear the swine flu is because, unlike seasonal flu, we seem unprepared to stop its spread.
We do have two drugs available to help with symptoms, which the CDC tells us is in plentiful supply. Relenza and Tamiflu, both of which are used during seasonal flu seasons each year, are also useful for helping swine flu patients, too.
H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine has been developed and as of October 2009, is available for distribution. Stay up to date on its availability.
Put Your Fear Energy Into Protection Efforts Instead
Fear takes a lot of energy. It makes much more sense to put our efforts into protecting ourselves and our loved ones, and protection is not difficult.
Begin by developing a plan in case someone in your family gets the swine flu. From storing food and water, to filling your medicine cabinet with the right drugs, to defining sleeping spaces for the sick family member, by being prepared, you will be less stressed.
There are travel considerations, and prevention steps like hand washing -- listed in H1N1 Swine Flu FAQs.
If you have upper-respiratory symptoms like coughing or congestion, stay home from work or school so you won't pass the germs to someone else. They may not even be flu! But there is no sense in taking chances, plus rest is an important way to fight those germs.
Most of all, like any empowered patient, informing yourself about the facts is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Here is more information to keep that fear at bay:
- H1N1 Swine Flu FAQs (includes links to the CDC, WHO and more)
- Swine Flu H1N1 Myths - Facts, Fiction and Fraud
- Swine Flu H1N1 Websites and Resources
- No Reason to Panic from About.com's Guide to Infectious Diseases
- Handle the Stress of Flu Fear from About.com's Guide to Stress
- The Most Powerful Virus is Fear, Not Flu by Dr. Marc Seigel