The hustle and bustle of new fall classes brings football games, new student orientation and the nostalgic school supply list. This year, nestled in between the usual suspects of #2 pencils, TI-83 Calculators, and loose-leafed notebook paper, the unusual request of a thermometer finds its way on the school supply list. Schools across North Carolina are advising students to be on the look-out for the first signs of swine flu that can be detected by checking for a fever whenever you start to feel flu-like symptoms. On the front page of UNC Chapel Hill’s website is a link to a list of information on swine flu and “how to respond” areas specific to students, professors and health care providers.
With the heightened awareness for swine flu symptoms at schools, offices, restaurants and public places I have to question the role fear is playing in the anti-swine flu campaign? Health officials from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite daunting stats of “556 dead from swine flu this year” without any comparison of deaths from traditional flu “victims”. For good measure, the CDC cites that 36,000 Americans die on average per year from complications associated with influenza. So why are health officials pushing for swine flu awareness above traditional protections against the flu (ie: wash your hands)? Maybe swine flu is particularly aggressive and requires immediate attention from doctors, while seasonal flu can be treated with at-home remedies? What about the role vaccine companies are playing here, do they get some sort of kick-back for rushing the flu vaccine? Or better yet, is intentional fear-mongering forcing Americans to keep the urgent need for health care at the front of our minds? Maybe the next health care reform pitch will read “Look around you, America is coming down with swine flu at unprecedented rates (well not really) wouldn’t it be great to know that our health can be cared for by the government? Is swine flu awareness a tactic? Maybe.