If swine flu weren't such a serious problem, I would have found it humorous when pork companies began demanding that we change the name of the virus to H1N1. People without a vested interest in pork might also consider that a good idea from the point of view of decreasing fear (pigs are slimy ugly creatures that make loud scary noises), until they discover that H1N1 was also the designation of the 1918 Spanish flu that killed over 50 million people worldwide.
Speaking of flu fears fed by the specter of 1918, have a look at my opedin Monday's NY Post. I also want to provide you some with some flu-prevention tips:
- Wash your hands often and don't cough or sneeze on people or wipe your hands on common surfaces - not because of swine flu, but to prevent the spread of any respiratory virus.
- If you are suffering from lethargy, high fever, muscle aches, headache, sore throat or nausea, call your physician. He or she can help you determine if you need to be tested for flu. Do not go to your local emergency room with mild or moderate symptoms because our ERs are already becoming clogged with patients with colds and allergies.
- If you are one of the rare people who have had contact with an actual case or possible case of swine flu, also contact your physician.
- Listen to public health announcements coming from our federal, state, and local officials, but consider that they may also see their role as describing the worst case scenario. Learn to diffuse the language of fear. Risk assessment needs to be rational. Be reassured that this appears to be a weak virus, that it is not spreading rapidly, and mostly that it doesn't seem to be very deadly.
- Isolating sick people and their contacts is the best way to contain an emerging virus, not to quarantine entire regions. It is doubtful that travel restrictions will help at this point, and closing the border may be counterproductive, as panicked sick people will likely try to escape (as has occurred historically).
Marc Siegel MD is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is a medical analyst and reporter for Fox News since 2008. His upcoming book concerns a mysterious viral outbreak.