May 3rd 2009

The Lilith eZine Sunday Edition

Letter from the Editor

The big news around the world this week is the H1N1 flu epidemic (commonly known as Swine Flu) which has been spreading across the globe at a mathematical rate and is one step away from being declared a global pandemic.

So far its killed 102 people in Mexico and the United States and made thousands more sick and because its airborne its difficult to control its spread, sparking worry that it could kill millions world wide since a vaccine can't be made in a hurry.

There's also been widespread confusion about how H1N1 is spread (Paris Hilton for example said "I don't eat that stuff", referring to pork products without knowing its not spread that way), questions of the seriousness of the disease, how deadly it is and lastly questioning whether the mass media has overblown the situation.

Well, lets step back a second and remember the SARS epidemic of 2003. It started in China, infected 8,096 people in seventeen countries and killed 774 (that is a fatality rate of 9.6%) in seven countries (including killing 44 people in Canada). Thankfully it wasn't airborne. You actually had to touch someone or something carrying the SARS virus for it to be passed on.

The problem with SARS and the reason why it still managed to spread is that initially people didn't take it seriously. Health organizations were unprepared for how easily it spread through human contact. Even nurses and doctors were falling sick and dying because they failed to take every precaution. If it had spread out of control, reaching pandemic levels 5 and 6, we could have seen a huge catastrophe instead of a mere disaster.

With the H1N1 virus however... there's still a lot of people who don't know anything about it or how its spread. People aren't taking it seriously and it is the mass media's responsibility, their civic duty, to warn people about the dangers so they know enough to wash their hands constantly, quarantine themselves if for several days if they recently returned from Mexico and see a doctor if they suspect they have the H1N1 virus instead of the common cold. Failure to do that, and we could see a global pandemic that will make SARS look like a minor infection.

Is it possible the media has overblown the situation? Nonsense. Wait until the pandemic is over and then we can argue whether all the media attention is warranted, and I can tell you right now, if this extra media attention manages to save just one life... it was worth it.

If an American child falls down a well and becomes a media spotlight of the week, is it worth it? Not really some might say. But if nobody had even bothered to notice the kid shouting for help then it would be worth it. That would be the true tragedy.

Media pundits spending their time worrying about the score of the football game, what Michelle Obama wore to so-and-so's funeral or what brain-dead-hunk is currently dating Paris Hilton. Those kinds of things are truly wasteful. So why is it when its something important suddenly people want us to stop talking about it?

Sometimes its just necessary to get the word out and anyone who wants to stick their head in the proverbial sandbox and ignore the world around them should be well-advised the world has a nasty habit of sneaking up on people and smacking them where they least expect it.

Suzanne MacNevin
Editor of the Lilith eZine

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