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Swine Flu: The College Campus Response to a Panicmongering Media

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Pandemic viruses are often characterized in Hollywood as highly contagious flesh-infecting diseases of colossal exploding abscesses that cause total mayhem and turmoil turning a quiet country town into a war zone. Explosions and gun fire fill the night sky as the carnivorous zombies roam about. Then, the courageous Joe and the beautiful Jane fight together to kill off the scores of infected walking dead. They fall in love, and all seems well until one of them discovers…. their own rotting flesh.

A polarized picture, I admit, but unfortunately, people are so tuned into cinema dramatics, the words “virus,” “death,” and “spreading” in the news is a recipe for panic. When, in reality, panic and governmental response to panic is more frightening than the disease itself.

The swine flu, the newest of pandemic potentials, has monopolized the news wires as of late. Hour by hour, more stories of doom and death have been reported, but the actual number of fatalities and status of the virus spreading according to the World Health Organization has not, in fact, worsened.

Speaking on the reported death toll, Vivien Allen, communications manager of the WHO told a local australian ABC radio station, “Unfortunately that is incorrect information and that does happen, but that’s not information that’s come from the World Health Organization. The death toll is seven and they are all from Mexico.”

The public, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly vigilant. Signs in public communes and restrooms are being posted on how to prevent infection from the “pandemic.” Stores are barely able to keep anti-bacterial gels in stock, and politicians are warning against travel pretty much all forms of travel.

Has the virus really been worthy of all this extravagant media coverage?

According to recent reports from popular new sources such as the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, swine flu is not as bad as once believed.

“The current outbreak of the H1N1 virus, which emerged in San Diego and southern Mexico late last month, may not even do as much damage as the run-of-the-mill flu outbreaks that occur each winter without much fanfare.” (LA Times)

“Because the virus lacks these key components of the virus that killed between 30-50 million people nearly a century ago, [Dr. Nancy Cox, head of the CDC influenza division] suggested that the swine flu may not be as deadly.” (ABC News)

“As swine flu continues to spread, concerns are mounting about a serious pandemic. Yet based on history and what we know about the flu virus, the threat is not as bad as it may seem.” (WSJ)

The College Response

While I would NOT say that the majority of institutions’ overall precautionary measures have been far-reaching, I will say that some have been a little over the top. Despite the scientific evidence that the virus is not as virulent as once believed, many still fear that college campuses have the potential to become cesspools of infection, given the large number of students living in tight communities.

The University of Texas has postponed several sporting events, an academic meet, and a wind ensemble music festival until later in May due to the swine flu. Other universities across the country have concentrated their preventative measures on graduation ceremonies. Students of a university in Colorado who vacationed in Mexico this spring break have been barred from attending the school’s main graduation ceremony, but will attend a separate ceremony for those potentially exposed to the virus. Northeastern University in Boston will eliminate the traditional handshake to prevent the spread of infection through direct contact. Some schools are canceling graduation ceremonies all together like Cisco Junior College in West Central Texas. Those students can expect their diploma by mail. (CNN)

Other colleges have maintained a “business as usual” mentality, but have still taken heed to the potential risk by instituting plans and quarantine centers on campus. Students have been warned to wash hands constantly and not to go to class if sick.

Have No Fear, Summer is Near

Typically, as summer months arrive flu viruses taper off; it is best not to worry. Knee-jerk reactions and unnecessary doctor visits are not the remedy. Remember, the flu is the flu. Stay well by eating well, washing your hands, and getting enough rest. If you do get sick, stay home, rest and recover.

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