Public attention for the past week has been centered on the H1N1 swine flu virus and its potential pandemic effects. Despite what the ubiquitous news coverage and conversations would lead you to believe, many experts says the virus is currently no more dangerous than the regular flu virus.
While H1N1 may be unnerving because it emerged after flu season, scientists at a forum at UC Berkeley on Monday stressed that it is no more infectious than the regular flu and urged calm.
It‘s important to keep the swine flu outbreak in perspective. On average each year, approximately 36,000 people in the United States alone die from the regular influenza virus along with over 200,000 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By contrast, there have been only 642 confirmed cases with two deaths from the H1N1 virus in the United States and efforts to slow the spread of the virus appear to be effective.
Swine flu hysteria even became local this week, when officials announced the closure of Davis‘ Holmes Junior High before the lab results had confirmed the presence of the H1N1 virus. While it‘s understandable that Yolo County Health officials wanted to take every precaution, announcing the definite closure of a school before the test results were in was probably premature.
The CDC guidelines at the time advised school closure for confirmed or unclassifiable cases of novel influenza A (H1N1).
While the CDC leaves school closures up to the discretion of local authorities, it would have been more prudent for either Davis Unified School District or Yolo County Health officials to instead announce the probable closure of Holmes pending lab results in order to spare parents and community members the panic.
Of course, the H1N1 virus is not benign and it must be monitored to watch for dangerous mutations, but the scientific consensus seems to be that the panic and comparisons to the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic are unwarranted.