Monday, May 4, 2009

We're All Gonna Die ! - Reflections on the Swine Flu

Over the past couple of weeks, it has become more and more clear that the world wide obsession with the swine flu is driven by an insane fear. Here are some common arguments, with rebuttal:

1. "But look at what happened in 1918! We're all gonna Die ! "  - well, 2009 ain't exactly 1918. Guess what has happened since then. #1 - we now have antibiotics. We have antivirals. We have antihistamines. We have inhalers for people with asthma and COPD. We now know much better the importance of hand washing..... and we now have wide availability of indoor plumbing ! !

The world is much different now. It's time to stop pretending it's 1918.

2. "But it might get worse! We're all gonna Die ! " - this brings to mind a great Yogi Berra'ism: "It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."  So, yes, it "might" get worse. But we know that right now people are dying everyday from the common flu, from cancer, from gunshot wounds, from suicide, from heart attacks..... and yes, from a lack of clean water and a lack of the basic necessities. We are spending now millions of dollars on something that "might" happen and ignoring what is happening.

Just last week at a cancer conference at Johns Hopkins that I was attending, it was mentioned that a patient couldn't get a PET/CT scan, which they really needed in order to help with their cancer. They had no health insurance. About 20 physicians at Hopkins spent their time at this meeting trying to figure out how to get this patient the care they needed. The problem was solved, but why did it ever arise in the first place? Maybe because of screwed up policies and priorities by our federal government. They are spending millions on what might be, and ignoring what is. Heaven help us if we get "universal" i.e. politician run health care. It will be full of idiotic fantasies that boil down to a single thing... getting the politicians more power.

Obviously, these politicians have never volunteered in a community free health clinic, where those without insurance can get at least some access to medical care. The politicians have no idea about the preventable diseases, the unnecessary deaths, and the pain and suffering that exists, right now. The politicians are too focused on the fear of what might be.

Remember the words of FDR: "There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”  This fear mongering by the politicians is out of hand.

3. "The swine flu is a pandemic ! We are all gonna die !! " - OK. This is partly right. Pandemic means a disease has spread around the globe, and isn't just regional. It doesn't mean that a large percentage of the population is affected. Typically, it refers to contagious diseases as opposed to chronic or genetic diseases. But we are not "all gonna die" from the swine flu. Much more likely is that you and I will die from the routine, boring, and unexciting diseases of cancer, stroke, and heart disease. These diseases don't make global headlines, but they are millions and millions of times more important than the swine flu.

4. "That person sneezed. We're all gonna die !  We're all gonna die ! " - guess what. Sneezing isn't going away anytime soon. Start using a handkerchief or tissue. Wash your hands. And stop scaring everyone to death. Yes, we're all gonna die, most of us in the western world at about age 75 or so. So prepare for being around for that long and start exercising, eating right, and even having a laugh or two at someone else's expense (ha, ha).

Tom Heston, MD