Friday, 22 May 2009


Mmmmmm! I love the taste of pig snot in the morning. This picture is great because it is so cute and so gross at the same time. It is both Yin and Yang, sweet and sour (pun intended), an archetypal image representing the great cosmic duality that holds together the fabric of the universe.

Nah, not really. It's just a kid sticking his tongue in a pig's nostril. Sure its fun, but not a practice I'd generally recommend at the moment....

...or is it?

No doubt you've heard about the latest media sensation pandemic sweeping the globe, Swine Flu. And it's turning out to be a bit of a fizzer, much to the frustrations of many a newspaper editor, though I guess we should be very grateful for that fact. The last bad flu strain, the 1918 flu pandemic killed over 12,000 Australians, decimated Europe and wiped out up to 30% of the populations of the Pacific Islands. Its hard to imagine such things happening these days, but aside from overall improved health of much of the general population, there is no reason why such things couldn't happen again.

To be fair, it must be tricky for public health authorities, to issue the right information without overstating the facts and causing unecessary public alarm. The media don't always help, and tend to run away with the story and waste a lot of type dwelling on the worst-case scenario. It's sooo easy to be skeptical about the potential of Swine Flu (and fun too), but presenting Swine flu from the doomsday angle may not really be such a bad thing. Widespread complacency might be just what this bug needs to get leg up in its quest for global domination. To borrow an old AIDS prevention slogan "Silence = Death".

So a bit of public concern is perhaps a good thing, regardless of the true level of risk. No doubt the nutters have already stockpiled their baked beans and retreated to the hills. Adults may prevent their suspected sick kids and possibly even themselves from going to work/school (if you want to take a sickie, now is the time). Travellers to infected areas may quarantine themselves upon returning home. People, ill or not, will be more conscious of hanging around in doctor's waiting rooms. Hand washing may increase, and this, and all these, are good steps to improving public health and wellbeing, including having the nutters in self-imposed exile.

All of this raises some interesting questions on how we perceive and respond to the threat of disease in our modern, affluent society. As its shaping up, this strain of influenza is no more dangerous than strains that sweep through our communities every year, and may in fact be less dangerous. I'm not sure of the death rate in Australia (probably in the dozens), but more 'common' strains of influenza kill thousands around the world each year, usually through secondary infections like pneumonia, and then generally in the frail, weak or very young. I picked up 'common' flu about three years ago and I thought I was going to die. I was cold to the core, no matter how many blankets I wrapped myself in. I shivered constantly and became delirious once or twice. I didn't eat for a week and my bones and joints ached for days. It was fucking awful, and I will never again say "I've just got a touch of the flu" when I now know I actually just have a sniffle.

So if 'normal' flu strains are so damn nasty and deadly, why don't we quarantine people at the first sign sypmtoms? Why don't we take kids out of school straight away, stop infected travellers from socialising, etc? Why don't we do all the things we are doing now to stop the spread of Swine Flu?

And why don't we give as much publicity and commit equal actions to more dangerous and preventable diseases like malaria, which stills kills between 1.5 and 3 million people a year, half of them children. In 2003, AIDS killed 5 million people worldwide. Because these diseases have been around for a while and don't make the headlines anymore doesn't make them less deadly. I reckon it can be summed up with one well known Kylie song..."Better the devil you know."

It's the rare, exotic dangers that capture the public imagination and cause the most fear. Shark attacks sell newspapers, a thousand road deaths a year don't. The ecstacy overdose causes a sensation, the old guy who drinks himself to death on a park bench doesn't. A work colleague of mine talks about her great fear of this one-in-a-billion parisitic infection she saw on Today Tonight, while she puffs on another cigarette. 'Normal' flu, who cares... but flu that has mutated from pigs or birds, run for the hills! Our greatest fears are the most irrational.

Aren't humans the most fascinating of creatures!


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At 26 May 2009 at 14:15 , Blogger Kath Lockett said...

Very, very impressive - how many blokes could put together such a persuasive blog *and* get away with including a Kylie reference?

At 26 May 2009 at 18:05 , Blogger Jon Brooks said...

I look forward to a world based on Logan's Run where we all have to renew. It's better than funding Medicare or educating the masses that pandemics are rare and media scares are not.


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