Panic and the Health Alert in the U.S.
The media frenzy surrounding the swine flu has sent people into mass hysteria. Sales of facemasks are ramping up, and antibacterial cleansers are flying off grocery store shelves in record numbers. But the fact is, it's difficult—if not impossible—to get an accurate handle on the real impact of the swine flu.
The news media is reporting skyrocketing cases in Mexico, but the figures are unreliable—and the number of laboratory-confirmed cases is small in comparison to suspected cases. As of today (April 30, 2009), there has only been one reported death in the U.S.—a toddler from Mexico in Texas.
Yet, the World Health Organization immediately issued health alerts. The U.S. government, after just 20 cases of swine flu and no deaths, declared a public health emergency. And President Obama is calling for billions of dollars to stockpile drugs, monitor the disease, and help with international efforts.
This high level of panic is reminiscent of the 1976 swine flu debacle. As you may remember, several army recruits at Ft. Dix, NJ, got swine flu and one died (after a strenuous, five-mile, overnight hike). Yet, the government rushed into a nationwide vaccination program. All told, 45 million Americans were vaccinated at a cost of $135 million. Shortly thereafter, Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing neurological disorder, cropped up in hundreds of the vaccinated people. Meanwhile, the swine flu epidemic never materialized.
The role of the drug companies
The truth is, our government has been preparing for a global flu pandemic for years, stockpiling medications and working on new vaccines.
Obviously, this is a windfall for the companies that manufacture these drugs. Their profit potential is enormous, yet their accountability is limited. Thanks to government intervention, any claims of injury caused by vaccinations must be filed through the Federal Court of Claims, which will require years of bureaucratic red tape. Furthermore, individuals can only sue if they have proof that a vaccine manufacturer did intentional harm.
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
The first step is not to panic. All of this media hype is doing far more harm than good. In reality, run-of-the-mill flu is likely more dangerous and deadly than the swine flu. Don't believe me? According to the Center for Disease Control, 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year with regular flu and 36,000 die from related complications. Despite the hype, the swine flu is behaving much like the regular flu—and most cases in the U.S. have been "mild."
Your best defense is to stay healthy. Eat a good diet, exercise, and get enough sleep. Practice scrupulous hygiene by washing your hands regularly. Keep your distance from people who have symptoms—and if you're sick, do everyone else a favor and stay home.
I also recommend that you make a point to bolster your immune system. Take a good daily multivitamin and mineral supplement, along with extra vitamin D (2,000-5,000 IU/day) and vitamin C (a minimum of 1,000mg/day). You may also want to consider using immune-boosting products.
Folks, there's no reason to panic. Of course, you should seek medical care if you need it, but for most, preventive measures should work just fine.
To your health,
Julian Whitaker, MD