Swine Flu: Aporkalypse or Map Maker's Delight?

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

“Decorated Swine Flu Surgical Masks in Mexico,” photo essay via the UK’s Telegraph.

Sometimes I deny it, but really I am highly susceptible to panicking about some new illness, environmental toxin, or general germy news.  I’m also hugely susceptible to conspiracy theories and general distrust of media-induced panic.  As you can image, this has made being around me the past few days loads of fun.

The recent outbreak/pandemic/Biblical plague of Swine Flu has given me lots of different ways to obsess about the germs floating around in the ether.  First, I’ll give you a round up of a few links to interactive or interesting online tools related to Swine Flu information.

  • Google is mapping the outbreak in (near) real-time.  You may need to zoom out for this to work.
  • Northwestern University’s ROCS (Research on Complex Systems) lab has their projections for the swine flu’s spread online.  They’re planning to “constantly” update the site as new information becomes available.
  • People Tweet about the flu (and tweet, and tweet, and keep tweeting).  The CDC has apparently seen a huge jump in “followers” on Twitter.
  • Newspapers and other MSM outlets, everyone from Fox News to NPR, seem to be competing for the best timeline.
  • The WHO has its daily press breifings available online (MP3s, videos, and transcripts).

As the 2009 swine flu crisis/aporkalypse/population control plays out it will be interesting to see if the new media technologies we have grown to love will perpetuate panic longer than it is needed or if they will serve as a check on the hysteria streaming from MSM.

Now, for a little humor.  I would like to point you to this video from Gawker.  That video sums up my second point about Swine flu and all our awesome media technology: maybe this really is not as bad as we are all bracing for.  Not that the flu isn’t serious, I had a flu a few weeks ago that sucked.  However, maybe we don’t need to start barricading the windows and buying air filters.  So, after you scare the bejeesus out of yourself with all those links above, I would like to present a few articles about how maybe this isn’t the Aporkalypse.

  • That same ROCS map suggests that the “pandemic” wont spread all that much further than the typical flu virus.
  • The “regular flu” is itself deadly.  Nearly 250,000-500,000 people worldwide die from seasonal influenza each year.
  • Wash your hands.

Finally, and I don’t think I’m alone here, I’m concerned that the debates about the swine flu will get used as a proxy for arguments about larger social issues.  Like Jason’s post on the “Craig’s List Killer,” the media coverage of swine flu has been sensational at best and downright hysterical at worst.

Reading through the comments to an NYT blog post about the flu I was struck by people who feared illegal/undocumented immigrants as cause of the pandemic coming to the United States.  Some people even felt that rhetoric about this flu has been used to “blame” Mexico for this latest world-wide crisis.  Personally, I hope that the swine flu crisis will help Americans confront our health care system.  An NPR article addressed the strain that public health services face in a period of high unemployment and shrinking budgets.

Obviously, I don’t know if I’ll be eating my words in a few weeks when thousands are dying, hospitals are overcrowded, and Tamiflu is rationed.  However, I suspect that the real trouble will not be a flu virus, if it wasn’t swine flu it’d be avian flu, SARS, or some flu we can’t imageine yet, our real problem is going to be confronting our “just in time” delivery of medication that requires ingredients from several countries, fear of imagrants, or general frustration with public health care.  Hopefully, as we learn more about swine flu we’ll be able to have these debates with the fear of immanent death.