Swine flu must be handled calmly

As more and more people around the world become infected by the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, fear of the disease should not get out of control. While the virus can be deadly, it may prove to be no worse than seasonal influenza.

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a total of 2,532 cases in 44 states, with only three confirmed deaths. These numbers pale in comparison to the regular flu virus, which has already killed thousands of people in the U.S. since January and averages 36,000 deaths each year, according to CNN.

Human cases of swine flu started cropping up in Mexico as early as February and soon spread across the border into the U.S. The disease has received sensational attention, though it is still uncertain how deadly it will actually be.

According to the Associated Press, mutation is a major concern for scientists and health officials, who worry the virus may became more powerful and return in the fall. The H1N1 virus is already a mutant, containing genes from flu viruses that normally just affect pigs, birds and humans, the CDC reported. However, the virus may not mutate and governments should deal rationally with this disease and avoid panicking.

After the CDC confirmed human cases in the U.S. and Mexico, both governments reacted quickly. All schools, museums, libraries and theatres were closed in Mexico City, and closings spread across the country. Schools also started closing in the U.S. after cases were confirmed in areas, including Tampa.

“What happened was not overreaction. It was a prudent response,” Michael Leavitt, former U.S. health secretary, told the Associated Press. “If imminent information about terrorism is known to authorities, they need to react. A pandemic is sort of nature’s terrorist.”

The U.S. and the world has been preparing for an outbreak such as this since 2003 when SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) started in China. The world was unprepared and in a matter of weeks the virus infected more than 8,000 people in 37 countries, killing 770, according to the AP. The U.S. has been researching better ways to detect influenza since 2005, and these new techniques allowed the CDC to spot swine flu early.

Governments should continue to respond calmly to the spread of the virus. Caution is needed, but governments should not overreact. The unfortunate side effect of calling the disease swine flu has been a sudden fear of eating U.S. pork.

Though the CDC and the World Health Organization have stated that the H1N1 virus is not spread by consumption of processed pork, 22 countries have full or partial bans on U.S. pork, according to Reuters.

Prices have fallen 20 percent since April, and the government may have to step in to support the U.S. pork industry.

These bans are based on unfounded fears and uninformed decisions and are only hurting the world economy. People should not stop eating pork and they should take the precautions they would during normal flu seasons.

Common sense steps such as washing hands and coughing or sneezing into a tissue are the best preventative measures. The world should wait and see what happens, while keeping a level head.

Michael Hardcastle is a freshman majoring in mass communications.