Profiting From the Swine Flu Panic

What can we do about it? The usual: wash your hands often and use a hand sanitizer. Not shaking hands is probably good, although you pretty much have to be Leon Redbone or Donald Trump to get away with it. If you feel sick (especially if you have something that seems like a bad cold), real achy, feverish, or mentally foggy, stay the hell home until you feel better. And call your doctor first thing: amantadine and Tamiflu really can help. If it develops into a relatively bad flu, the old-fashioned "'flu mask" actually helps. Plus, you get to look like a walk-on character on House.

There's also a list of things that won't help. Closing the border with Mexico won't help. Not only has that horse left the station, with cases apparently showing up in New York and Kansas, but flu is perfectly happy to cross the border with birds and wild animals. Sadly, vitamin C won't help, although if you take the Vodkapundit approach of taking the vitamin C with Absolut it might at least keep you more cheerful. Worrying about it doesn't help much. Nor does it make a lot of sense.

Most especially, red banner headlines with words like "pandemic" -- which means, by the way, "sick people everywhere" -- don't help. Press conferences don't help a lot.

Except, of course, for a few little groups.

1. The red banner headlines help Drudge; more hits for him

2. The press conferences help the WHO and CDC; it proves they're doing something and they're important

3. The swine flu helps my brothers and sisters in the press; nothing like a scary story to get more people to read your paper.

Which is the real point here.

Thirty years ago, a few hundred people a year died of "food poisoning" -- usually the very young, very old, or people who were sick already. Now, "food poisoning" has a horse-doctor Latin name, and we can trace the salmonella bugs' family tree and see who got it, from whom, and how it got there. So a few dozen or 100 people in a population of 300 million turns from "one of those things" into a big story, and we are all appropriately horrified. The flu gets loose in Mexico, and a few dozen people die from it. But it gets a name, "swine flu,"which sounds scary and icky. It turns from one of life's periodic tragedies into a big story, and we're all appropriately horrified.

With the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, there always has to be something to say. You need excitement. "We're all gonna die!" sells papers and gets people talking.

What's missing is a sense of proportion. Somehow, the way these things get blown up is never a big story -- and hardly anyone is appropriately horrified.