You’ve got a cough, a fever, a sore throat, runny nose, aches and pains. You must have the H1N1 virus, a.k.a. the swine flu. Don’t take chances. Do yourself and everyone else a favour: Stay home and watch the soaps.
At least that’s the message, backed up by those little hand sanitizers sprouting in office lobbies.
But what if the message is wrong?
I’m not sure what to think about a CBS investigation that presents compelling evidence of a massive over-reporting of swine flu in the U.S. Instead of just accepting alarming bulletins from health authorities, CBS asked all 50 states for lab-confirmed swine flu results.
What CBS found is a testament to the inadvertent side-effects of the swine flu epidemic:
Florida tested 8,863 specimens: 17 per cent were swine flu; 83 per cent no flu at all. California tested 13,704 specimens, 86 per cent were negative for flu. Georgia? 97 per cent no flu.
Georgetown University announced in September that 250 students had swine flu, but the report was not based on lab tests, only estimates based on students who reported flu-like symptoms. Could be none of them had swine flu.
This is not to say you shouldn’t be cautious. In fact, you should be more cautious: If you think you’ve already survived a bout of the swine flu and have won immunity, think again. Unless your diagnosis is lab-tested, it’s possible you never had swine flu, and to be safe, you should line up for a vaccine shot.
Granted, B.C. Health officer Dr. Perry Kendall says 50 per cent of the samples in this province test positive, compared with five to 10 per cent in other provinces — numbers that conform to the CBS investigation. There’s no explanation why so many test positive in B.C. and nowhere else.
Whatever, it’s better to be safe than sorry. But it’s also a good idea to get a grip. So far, nine people have died after coming down with swine flu in B.C. — and seven had prior conditions that contributed to their deaths. To date, 83 Canadians have died after getting swine flu. Every year, regular flu contributes to the deaths of 8,000 Canadians.
And not one of them makes the headlines.