Obama and Swine Flu

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I don't want to be picky, but I have to admit that as a fear expert I was more affected by President Obama's statement a few weeks ago in response to the emerging swine flu threat that we should all wash our hands, then I was to Vice President Biden's blatant misstatement about not flying on planes. Let me explain_ clearly, we carry many bacteria and viruses on our hands, and in fact most of our stomach viruses as well as cold viruses are passed back and forth this way. It is hard to fault anyone for recommending hand washing, but consider that Obama's statement carried the subliminal message that we might be carrying this virus, despite the fact that the statistical chances of that then and now remain extremely low.

The president followed that up by asking Congress for $1.5 billion to prepare us for this flu, an amount that seems totally reasonable until you consider what other health care needs it might be taken away from. Stockpiles of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu will have to be discarded if they aren't used in 5 years, and we still have no idea what the extent of spread or severity of this swine flu virus will be. Preparing a vaccine seems wise, taking needed resources away from current pandemics like TB, HIV, or even the yearly flu does not. It is paramount that at a time when our government is considering expanding the system for health coverage, that issues of allocation and proper use of resources be at the top of the list.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been front and center during the initial stages of the swine flu outbreak, and they have been very effective at identifying and tracking the virus, somewhat less effective at explaining it in context during press conferences (this may have something to do with the nature of the beast - press conferences themselves immediately become amplified).

I have more of a bone to pick with the World Health Organization in terms of their poor conveyance of contextual information. The WHO all too often seems like "fright night" though they too have been tremendous when it comes to "boots on the ground."

Check out my articlein today's Slate magazine about how the WHO has dealt with swine flu.

Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News medical contributor and writes a health column for the LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel is the author of "False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear"and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic." Read more at www.doctorsiegel.com