The Pandemic That Wasn’t

The headlines of every major newspaper in the United States screamed about the coming swine flu pandemic. To read these accounts one would come to the conclusion that a fast moving wave of death and depravation was advancing on the United State from Mexico City.

When the unfortunate death in Houston of a two-year old visitor from Mexico was trumpeted and nine cases were diagnosed in four states, the press went into hyperdrive. Schools closed, libraries shut down, Vice-President Biden announced that he advised people not to utilize enclosed areas such as planes, buses, or subways. There was a news conference every hour by someone or another at Homeland Security and/or Health and Human Services. Liberals renamed it H1N1 to remove any stigma and conservatives called for shutting down the borders.

Each newly diagnosed case was reported ad nauseum and colored maps were used to highlight the spreading plague. Those of us over sixty were reminded constantly of the additional risk to the elderly and we were advised to stay home, wear a mask if we went into the public, and make sure that our local healthcare facility was stocked with influenza globulin.

And constantly the term “pandemic” was used and ancient statistics about the deaths of hundreds of thousands, even millions, were rolled out to emphasize the immediate danger we faced.

And thus we waited. And waited. And waited. And then Nothing.

Now the headlines announce that the pandemic is easing both in Mexico and the United States.

What pandemic? A pandemic is defined as an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through populations across a large region.

In Tuesday’s paper, an Associated Press article related that there were 727 confirmed cases of swine flu in Mexico with the resulting deaths of 26 people. There are 110 million people in Mexico, over 22 million people in Mexico City alone which is the site of the supposed pandemic. Mexico has an annual death rate of 4.78 per thousand. That means in any given week 10,100 people die in Mexico from all causes. In any given year nearly 4,900 women in Mexico die from breast cancer and approximately 2,500 men die from prostate cancer annually — neither is considerate pandemic.

In America, there have been 403 confirmed cases of swine flu in 38 states as of Tuesday morning — no deaths, few hospitalizations. There are over 304 million people in the United States. The incidents of swine flue are less than infinitesimal.

So why the big deal? There are those who speculate that the press wanted this to be Pres. Obama’s “Katrina” — those on the right speculate that the press wanted Obama’s actions to be compared favorably with those of President Bush, and those on the left speculate that it was an attempt to knock Obama down a notch and remind him of his benefactors in the press.

Well, I find myself decidedly on the right in most instances, but in this one I chalk the whole thing up to media incompetence matched by a steadfast determination on the governments part to take advantage of any crises real or perceived. All of the information in this column was readily available to a press corp that couldn’t be bothered with either facts or proportionality and politicians who didn’t understand the difference.

In fact, the only politician that seemed to react appropriately was Pres. Obama himself who repeatedly called for calm and a reasonable period to see what developed. Too bad his administration didn’t follow his lead — particularly Sec. Janet Napolitano who can’t see an epidemic of illegal immigration but can see a pandemic that isn’t.