Swine flu shows need for balance

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, May 2, 2009

The reports vary widely depending on what news network you are watching or what you are reading.

The headlines run the spectrum from “Swine Flu: Worst virus since deadly 1918 pandemic” to “Not much more than common cold.”

While these are not actual headlines they summarize the broad level of disagreement on how dangerous the swine flu actually is. Many officials were declaring a state of emergency earlier in the week. Now, a variety of medical experts are saying that this strain of virus lacks many of the traits that made the bird flu and others more deadly.

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The virus outbreak has also shown the need for balance in the media and in the public. There is a fine line between being prepared or informed and inciting an all-out panic. The national media — and local media are somewhat guilty as well — has likely gone overboard in the coverage.

But threats like this must be taken serious. Our government needs to have containment and treatment plans in place for scenarios like this.

We need to be able to be confident that the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and other organizations will be prepared for emergencies, process the information and provide the American people with the facts in a way that paints a realistic picture and doesn’t create unnecessary panic.

The 1918 virus is estimated to have killed 40 to 50 million people. The swine flu has killed an undetermined amount that is likely less than a hundred.

Hopefully, the swine flu threat is passing but we shouldn’t forget the lessons this has taught us.