It’s not often that I don my white coat in public, but the absolutely shocking coverage of swine flu is driving me to despair. A classic example of piss-poor reporting is The Sun, where the story “It could be flu” ticks the following boxes:
- Sheer scientific illiteracy.
- Doom mongering.
- Engendering panic.
- Blaming the government (naturally).
Before addressing these points, let’s just look at the meaning of the word pandemic, which is being used over and over again to lend an appropriately apocalyptic tone to the reporting. A pandemic is an incidence of disease where there is transmission between humans over a large area. So, people can catch it off each other, and people are catching it off each other around the world (which given the globalised nature of travel, is highly unsurprising- more on the global nature of disease later though). Yes, a worry, but the 4 horsemen won’t be galloping down a street near your anytime soon.
So, moving on. In no particular order, here is some of the absolute crap that I’ve read/been force-fed by 24 hour news:
“We might not have enough antibiotics to combat swine flu.”
Antibiotics kill BACTERIA (small, unicellular life forms such as TB, E. Coli, and MRSA) whereas flu is a VIRUS (not alive, just a complex biological machine that hijacks cellular machinery of things that are alive in order to replicate itself). So even if we had all the antibiotics in the world, they wouldn’t do anything for swine flu because swine flu is a VIRUS and not a BACTERIA (still following at the back?).
“Scientists yesterday warned the pig virus could mutate yet again — by “mating” with lethal bird flu strain H5N1 to become even more powerful.”
Viruses mating. Nice. To reiterate the last point, VIRUSES ARE NOT ALIVE. They replicate themselves by hijacking things that are. Yes, there is a small possibility of viruses recombining (not mating) but there is also a statistical chance of Lord Lucan winning the Grand National on Shergar dressed as Elvis. Or me winning the lottery. On which note…
“Britain’s doctors will use a LOTTERY to deicde which swine flu victims get intensive care during a pandemic”
Well, a) we’re in a pandemic already, but that’s not neccessarily cause to go and hide in a cave with 3 years supply of pot noodles and b) if we get to the point where the health service is near collapse (which we won’t) then we’re all screwed anyway because there’ll be hardly anyone left to run the country/economy. What does The Sun want? A doctor and a nurse for everyone in the country?