Preparing For the Worst

H1N1 Influenza (Swine Flu) Scares the People?

H1N1 Influenza (Swine Flu) Scares the People?

Dr.Kedar Karki

Since we have heard in the news, there has been an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and the United States. There is a possibility that this situation might develop into a pandemic if the virus continues to spread around the globe. The news media report excessively about this threat, and while health officials urge people to stay calm, there is an increased level of anxiety in the population. Many major reporting outlets (BBC, CNN and newspapers globally) are still using the media-friendly term ‘swine flu’ when covering the rise in pandemic level, prompting an immediate response from within the pork producing industry.

 A June 10, 2009 update by the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO) states that 74 countries have officially reported 27,737 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection, including 141 deaths. In India till date 31 cases are being confirmed in city like Hyderabad, Bangalore, New Delhi, and Jallandhar in Punjab. Government of India is now thinking about suspension of air flight to U.S.A as most of confirmed cases in India have been detected from the persons who had recently traveled to U.S cities and had returned from there. WHO’s decision to raise the pandemic alert level to Phase 6 is a reflection of the spread of the virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus.

Why are people scared before an epidemic even happens?—A question inspired by the recent H1N1 outbreak.  From a sociological perspective, entities that we rely upon to keep us safe from harm are now advising us that a threat is amongst us which is highly troubling to the human psyche.  Aside from of our sense of safety being compromised, the usual suspects—media outlets and major public institutions, are also to blame for contributing to the present swine flu hysteria.

Humans typically like to think of themselves as the precious, unique and special individuals their mothers raised them to believe they are.  However, the truth is that humans do not exist in isolated psychological boxes, but rather, their sense of self and wellbeing are dependent on the relationships they have with others.

We are entirely a product of our social interactions. We are a physiological thing in the world, but our understandings, our meaning, our sense of safety and wellbeing, and our sense of imperilment all hinge on our relationships with one another and to institutions in society that we in essence have farmed out our safety to by default.”

As society increased in complexity, we’ve inadvertently transferred the responsibility of maintaining our sense of safety to agencies.  Public interest agencies such as the CDC and Universities, give us that warm and fuzzy safe feeling by knowing that they are monitoring threats we otherwise wouldn’t have a clue about.

Pathogens, radioactivity and toxins are all invisible agents that scare the crap out of us.  When an unexpected fugitive situation emerges, these culprits are particularly scary to us because we cannot detect them ourselves which makes imagining the worst case scenario is easy. The swine flu is entirely mediated because we cannot individually sense it.

This brings up an issue of sociability. The flu’s mitigation, its cure, both physical and psychological, is based on relationships with others.  The flu, toxins and radiation all have these relationships.  So once you realize the flu is out, it travels through the same networks we rely on for our sense of safety.

Furthermore, an epidemic is also worrisome to us because there is no clear end in sight. Natural disasters have a beginning, middle and an end—a nice story line. It’s coming, we prepare, it comes, and then rebuild.  Toxic events and pandemics come in waves.  Is this the first wave?  The last wave?  Where are we in this story?  Is it ever going to end?  Humans are the most extreme example of suffering; suffering through anticipation.  Looking to the future and saying will something happen down the road?’ is as bad as something actually happening. Granted, fear of a viral outbreak is more rational, but the associated anticipational dread humans experience is the same.

We have to keep in mind though, that dreading a potential pandemic is something you could make a lifelong hobby out of considering it’s always there.  It should also be pointed out that there are numerous other slow to manifest issues among us that we presently fear less even though they are much more serious.  “Crescive problems” are gradual problems that are ignored by society until they reach a certain threshold.

The threat of an influenza pandemic has managed to cross the social concern threshold into hysteria territory.  But why are we so afraid of humanity’s demise via a swine flu as opposed to more definitive potential disasters?

One explanation could be that H1N1 is a new “threat” and we are therefore not yet desensitized to this new stimulus.  A comical example of societal desensitization is that initially humans feared the introduction of electricity which over time faded—perhaps swine flu will endure the same fate.

Another factor that provokes our concerns is that H1N1 is killing late teens and twenty-some things as opposed to just elders and infants.  Therefore, scientific rationale and the fact that public health agencies are also alarmed legitimize our concerns.

However, the magnitude of concern one should be presently expressing over the swine flu is definitely worth evaluating.  The public primarily obtains news via popular media and although it is well known that the media exaggerates information for the sole sake of generating revenue, the public still carries on as if they are ignorant to this fact. Aside from the quintessential media hype, public interest institutions themselves are also feeding our hysteria fire. 

Overall, whether or not an influenza epidemic is actually occurring doesn’t change the fact that a pandemic is a real potential threat to humanity and should therefore not be ignored.  However, other variables deviates us from reality which causes hysteria outbreaks.  It’s worth examining these underlying hysteria causing variables because hysteria has real social implications including future policy making and economical investments, as well as the attachment of wrongful stigma to certain animals and populations of people.  Not to mention dreading a potential pandemic is a waste of our time and is also illogical considering more substantiated problems presently exist.

Source by Dr.Kedar Karki

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