I don’t know about the flu, but the hysteria is catching

There are only about 100 cases of swine flu confirmed in the US so far, but nearly 300 schools have shut down to prevent its spread.  Fort Worth, Texas has ONE student with the swine flu, but has shut down the entire system for 10 days.  This, in a country where nearly half of workers don't have any paid sick days, and many of those who do have paid sick time aren't allowed to use it to care for a family member.

But, not to worry, Vice President Biden "said he hoped U.S. employers 'will be generous' in
allowing parents to take time off to keep their children home if there has been
a confirmed case of flu at their school.”

“Fort Worth officials urged parents not to send their children to day care
or 'any venue where groups of children may gather' and pleaded with
the employers and the general population to make it possible for parents to
accommodate this request.

"This is indeed an example of how the community can rally to support
the health and well-being of students, their families and the District,"
schools superintendent Melody Johnson told reporters.”

I can write a report or take a conference call from home, but you can't cook and serve a restaurant meal, clean a hotel room, or care for a sick patient from home.  So what's going to happen?  Some parents will bring their kids to work.  Older kids may be left at home alone unsupervised.  Some parents will stay home, lose wages, and maybe not be able to afford to get their prescription filled this month, or will fall a little further behind on the electric bill.  But no one will point fingers at Ms. Johnson when a 12 year old left home alone sets a piece of toast on fire.

N has had a nasty cough the last few days, but no fever.  I'm 99.9 percent sure that it's allergies, but we've kept him home anyway, because there's not much downside to him missing a couple of days of preschool.  But there are real costs to closing schools, and I think it's hysterical overreaction to do so without any evidence that this is worse than an ordinary flu.

20 Responses to “I don’t know about the flu, but the hysteria is catching”

  1. bj Says:

    Yes, I know what you mean. I was even influenced this morning, when I opened my email to find that they’d closed a local school. I kept my son home from preschool. It was immensely silly, but I just thought, why? why does he have to go out today? Of course, the real reason is that he’s bored in preschool, and he has grandparents to play with him, and it was a beautiful day, which meant bike riding and spring time fun.
    But, the thought was induced by seeing the school closure. The hysteria is really catching.
    I think there should be a standard policy on school closure. It’s not the same as policies for “snow days”, because those are very locality specific (i.e. folks in Chicago can get to school with snow that cripples North Carolina). But, the school policies for a “pandemic” should be the same everywhere, based on the flu severity, the ease of transmission, and the number of infected individuals (and whatever else the epidemiologists think matters). The only thing “school-specific” is how much of a hardship is caused by closing schools to the local population.

  2. Lee Says:

    I think this may be a good, albeit very expensive, exercise in evaluating our options should something much worse arise.
    Our local district has two confirmed cases, 1 probable case, and 7 suspected spread over 4 campuses. So far only the school with the 2 confirmed cases is closed. We receive a daily phone message from the superintendant.

  3. wendy Says:

    How many people around the world were in a car accident yesterday and how many died? More than have the swine flu for sure.
    Are media outlets just bored with talking about economics? Are politicians just jumping at the chance to divert attention to anything other than war and money and unemployment? Is the CDC really this gullible? apparently (or they know something they aren’t telling – which would really tick me off).
    Interestingly, so far the blogosphere I’ve encountered is spending much more time on anti-hysteria chatter than “we’re all going to die” outbursts. There is hope for us yet perhaps.

  4. bj Says:

    They closed another 2 schools in our neck of the woods. At least one of the schools has an afterschool program that draws from others schools. But, they haven’t closed the other schools. And, it’s beautiful outside. So, what will closing the schools do? Will everyone stay home and watch television? Or will they head out to the malls/playgrounds/public spaces?
    The decision making bugs every evidence-based bone in my body.

  5. bj Says:

    Oh, I came up with one reason that might justify closing schools — the real possibility that people won’t keep their sick kids at home. Rather than healthy people staying out of public spaces, the real key is to keep sick people at home. But, we all know that parents like to push when it’s reasonable to send their own kids in, and if your kid is sick, you don’t avoid the chance of infection by keeping them at home.

  6. Lynn P Says:

    I agree that it seems to be an overreaction. I work in Fort Worth but live in Arlington. My kids school is still open – so far. I guess I don’t understand why this is so different – people get the flu every year and some of them that were young or old or sick from other things die. We don’t close school and cancel events for that.

  7. jen Says:

    I agree with most folks here — this is more about the media being bored with all the economic news. Britney Spears, where are you when we need you?

  8. Virago Says:

    Lynn P –
    I hear you about the overreaction, and I’m certainly not going to hide out in my house w/a month’s worth of food and water!
    However, the H1N1 virus *is* different from the flu virus that hits the Northern Hemisphere every winter. H1N1 includes a mix of genes from birds, pigs and people, and scientists just don’t know much about it yet — what age group is most at risk, how contagious the virus is, what time of year you’re more likely to catch it, etc.
    I found this article –
    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/health/2009155250_fluperspective01m.html
    to be pretty helpful.

  9. amy Says:

    Yeah, it’s different, but so what? Look if you get it, the odds are terrific that you’ll get sick and then better. A few people will die. Just like when we have…the flu.
    If this flu becomes more lethal, then maybe I could see it. But people are going off the deep end about this.

  10. urbanartiste Says:

    The media is absolutely ridiculous in that some are alarmist and others are relaxed. This is reminiscent of taping the windows post-9/11.
    If there are confirmed cases at a school it should shut down until it can be thoroughly disinfected. Shutting down a school is not going to prevent the spread especially since most people can not afford to stop their life. If they are infected they will spread it to the workplace and shops, etc. Is is crazy to think the school should remain open as a way to keep it contained?
    I did hear that scientists have confirmed it does not contain some protein or element that makes the flu deadly. I know this is a serious issue, but there has to be more to report on around the world.

  11. bj Says:

    OK, so here’s the CDC’s policy on school closure for H1N1:
    http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/k12_dismissal.htm
    The recommendations are actually very conservative, and perhaps more conservative than the decisions made by most of the schools. They suggest closing schools for 14 days if there’s 1 confirmed case of H1N1, and closing the entire district if there’s more than 1 confirmed case distributed over more than one school. The even suggest closing neighboring school districts if there’s overlap.
    he recommendations say “should be considered” (not demanding closure). But, it’s still pretty dramatic. I don’t know if the CDC is over-reacting, but at least now I know what the official guidelines look like now.

  12. Virago Says:

    1. Amy, the article I linked to agrees on the need for perspective. It basically says that although there are a lot of statistics floating around right now, what’s missing is the context.
    For example, “Even though early reports from Mexico raise the specter of swine-flu mortality rates approaching 7 percent, the value of those numbers remains elusive.
    “Only a handful of the several hundred respiratory-illness deaths have actually been confirmed as swine flu.
    “And no one knows yet how many thousands — or tens of thousands — have been infected with the virus and not died.”
    2. “This is more about the media being bored with all the economic news.” “The media is absolutely ridiculous in that some are alarmist and others are relaxed.” I always wonder which media people mean when they say this. CBS? NPR? Fox? CNN? The New York Times website? The local daily/weekly newspaper?
    Full disclosure: I work for the local daily, and I have to say that our coverage has been relatively restrained. We’ve reported on the handful of H1NI cases in the state, but we’ve also pointed out that a) everyone w/the virus is recovering at home and nobody has been hospitalized; and b) per state health officials, the 99.9999% of the population that is not infected should do nothing more drastic than wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough.
    3. My mom, who is basically sensible and worked as a nurse for 40 years, freaked out when I was 11 and I went to visit my aunt in Pa. in 1976. Why? I called home and said we were going shopping in Philly, the epicenter of Legionnaires Disease. And this was before cable TV, the 24-hour news cycle, or the Internet. Swine-flu frenzy, too, will pass.

  13. Jennifer Says:

    My two kids had influenza last year — the real influenza, not the stomach flu — and let me tell you, there was not any question of sending them to school. They were so weak they could hardly walk; even with ibuprofin and tylenol their fevers wouldn’t go below 100. (My husband and I took Tamiflu, btw, and did not get sick.) It was over a month before they gained back the weight they’d lost.
    Regarding closing schools: One of the school districts here in Oregon is so broke they are seriously considering a 4-day school week. The only way parents can deal with that is, the parents are unemployed…

  14. Lee Says:

    My daughter tested positive for the flu two years in a row. This past year, her fever never got above 100.2. So we could have technically sent her to school while still complying with the rules.
    I sure hope our superintendant isn’t reading the CDC guidelines about school closure.

  15. urbanartiste Says:

    To be specific, I find that even within one station there are conflicting presentations. On CNN, Anderson Cooper had every other statement either be alarmist or calming. There also seemed that one host would be presenting public concern as ridiculous and the next would be alarmist. I think it has to do with the writing or reliance on talking points to get viewership.

  16. Kari Osier Says:

    I agree the media is blowing it out of proportion. However, we had the “normal” flu in February. I was out of work for almost 4 days, I could barely get out of bed and had over a 102 fever. My husband and both children got it as well. My kids have asthma and my oldest was so ill she had to be hospitalized. She took Tamiflu and it didn’t help, nothing did. She gets seriously ill every time she gets the flu, even though she gets flu shots every year. If anyone was in my shoes they would understand how they would not want their kids to get this flu. It is stupid for people to not take this seriously. I don’t think people who say this know how the flu really feels.

  17. amy Says:

    Sure, we do, Kari. So many people got so sick last year. I was stupid and deadline-driven in how I handled it — I came down with flu the same night we had an 8-inch snowfall, a week before a major deadline. Upcoming custody trial made handing care of child to husband inadvisable. So I got myself out of bed, suited up, shoveled out the driveway, put the kid in the car, and fishtailed off to the daycare. Came home and got to work. Spent the day alternating between the screen and the floor. Was sick as a dog for days, lost eight pounds, and wound up with bronchitis post-flu (asthma, pneumonia a few years ago). I wouldn’t handle it that way again — the shoveling especially. My daughter also caught it, but recovered faster.
    Anyone who’s specially vulnerable is going to be terrified of low-mortality-rate pandemics and power outages. But for most, it’s just…you get sick, you get better.

  18. urbanartiste Says:

    Any news program should report on the swine flu in a professional manner, not like they are reporting as a media tabloid. The fact that there is no separation in the style of reportge on Britney Spears or swine flu is disturbing and I am talking about tone, graphics, etc. It is time they stop treating news as entertainment; there are serious issues even within the Britney Spears story. They simultaneously trivialize and sensationalize. But I am not holding my breath for them to change.

  19. lisa Says:

    Yeah-our daycare issued a zero tolerance policy last week for any SINGLE symptom of flu-so I had to stay home Friday even though I was sure my daughter’s coughing was more about allergies and lack of sleep (night terrors). I don’t get family leave, though I can work from home. But my current project is team related and doesn’t lend itself well to this.
    I understand the need to be cautious, but the overreaction is bothering me.

  20. Virago Says:

    Urbanartiste,
    Just checking back in to thank you for your clarification. I appreciate your insights into the tone and style of broadcast coverage. I agree — the hysteria is exhausting and *not* informative. (I say this having spent a New England winter enduring not only snowstorms, but also over-hyped “Storm Center” broadcasts that gave us viewers lots of scary graphics but little in the way of actual data: such as, how long is this going to last? how much snow will we get?)

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