If the flu were new

from Wayne Wood

Watching the Ebola hysteria being ratcheted up day-by-day, it is a truly amazing thing to recall that as of today, exactly one person has died of Ebola in the entire Western Hemisphere.


Two other people who cared for him as he was dying now have Ebola, but both are being cared for at facilities familiar with how to treat the disease, and there is great hope that both will recover, as have several other American health care workers who contracted Ebola while caring for people in West Africa.

Ebola is indeed a horrible and deadly disease, and we need to do everything we can to arrest its spread in West Africa and care for the people affected there. But it is not spreading in the American general population, and is almost certainly not going to do so.

But it’s new, and it’s scary, and it’s foreign, and that leads some people to panic.

That leads me to a thought experiment: What if the flu were new?

What if people got on television and reported that this crazy new disease is about to hit, that it will likely kill 50,000 Americans in the next few months. That it can be spread through the air in workplaces, schools and homes. That when friends and family get together in a few weeks for the holidays, that we will pass this potentially deadly virus around, and that it is especially dangerous for the young and the elderly.

What if we said that a vaccine was available, and, while that vaccine is not perfect, if everybody got one, the death toll of this disease would be reduced substantially.

But flu isn’t new. Nobody carries on like this because we think the flu is a normal part of winter, it’s familiar to us, and that leads us to underestimate its danger.

But if it were not familiar, and the facts were the same about its spread and its danger, the Crazed Cable Commentators would be going nuts. Only with WAY more justification than they have to go nuts over American Ebola.

Here is one of the many television interviews with William Schaffner, M.D., professor of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt, this one with CNN International.

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