Deconstructing Swine Flu Mania

I’ve taken a stab at deconstructing some of the media hyperbole regarding swine flu. You can read my shy-of-1000 words essay at TheModerateVoice or Newsvine. Two highlights follow.

Today’s “facts” from the World Health Organization provide perspective:

Today WHO reported that 11 countries have “officially reported 257 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection.” In the U.S., we have 109 laboratory-confirmed human cases and one death. In Mexico, there are 97 confirmed human cases and seven deaths.

Moreover, the specter of the 1918-1919 pandemic doesn’t seem likely today, based on WHO’s most “conservative” (ie, worst-case) scenario:

However, even WHO doesn’t anticipate another epidemic like we had in 1918: “Current epidemiological models project that a pandemic could result in 2 to 7.4 million deaths globally.”

Let’s put these numbers in context. In 1918, the world population was about 1.8 billion. That means that the H1N1 virus swine flu killed about 3 percent of the world’s population. According to the U.S. archives, more than 25 percent of the U.S. population experienced the flu, however.

Today, the world population is approximately 6.7 billion. Taking the worst-case WHO estimate, as much as 0.1 percent of the world’s population is at risk of death if this flu indeed becomes a pandemic. In other words, it still sounds to me like the risk is small.

And that $1.5 billion President Obama wants for a vaccine? Not likely to be much help.

The swine flu media focus seems to be a variation of “if it bleeds it leads” at the moment.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

7 replies on “Deconstructing Swine Flu Mania”

Hi, DCTN- thanks for your note! And the British PM was also one of the first major politicians to have a Twitter channel. Would love to see your paper on Globalized IT!

First of all, this is an excellent blog. I wish more professors would follow your lead and post their knowledge/thoughts online. As a poli-sci/film double major undergrad(over on the east coast), I found this site very relevant to my areas of studies. The combination of politics and media/techology is right up my alley. In fact, I just completed a 50pg term paper yesterday entitled “Globalized IT: Assessing Information Technology’s Affect on State Power.” (It is a very, very interesting topic.) Personally, you might be interested in the new methods of interest articulation the the US fed. govt. is implementing on websites such as You can “webchat” with various govt. officials and leaders in society about current issues (at a set date and time, of course). Also, (and you might already be aware of this) British PM Gordon Brown has his own Youtbube channel through which he takes questions/addresses the people.

Concerning the topic of this particular post, Media Matters posted a few interesting pieces.

I read your article on The Moderate Voice (great website, I’d never been) and it was so informative. Thank you!

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