Swine Flu - Are You Panicking?

Filed under: In The News

How worried are you about swine flu? Photo: David Hecker, Getty Images.

One of the strange and wonderful things about the 24/7 news cycle is how quickly a story goes from "what's this all about?" to "let's get on with our lives." What used to take weeks or months now takes just a few days. Case in point: Swine flu. Remember when the story broke? It feels like a long time ago, doesn't it? It wasn't. Very quickly the story went from "just a few cases" to "everybody panic!" (Internet chatter doesn't help, as this cartoon points out.)

When you have children, panic is more understandable, since you are panicking for more than one person. Well, maybe it isn't always understandable. But it is less self-centered.

In general, while we are told by the powers that be not to panic, those same powers are not always very good at helping us to keep it together. For example, the word "pandemic." According to the AP, this only means that "a virus is circulating widely." It doesn't mean that people are going to start dying. Even the name "swine flu" was a poor choice, since it caused a drop in pork sales. The virus is now known as H1N1. Had it started out with that moniker, I wonder if it would have sowed (no pun intended) the same amount of fear in the populace.

We decided to ask some folks if they were stocking the bunker with canned goods and preparing for a swine flu/H1N1 apocalypse -- or, you know, not.Mike Adamick, who writes for Babble.com and his own site, said that he was worried at first, until he actually looked at things a little more closely. "I was starting to get a little freaked out until I actually read deep into these alarmist news stories. 'Two people get swine flu!' Then buried deep in the story, they said, the people both survived and their symptoms were really not that bad, a minor flu really. Score one panic outbreak for cable news!"

Jeanne Sager, who writes for several publications including Babble and AOL's Lemondrop, is more concerned by her own daughter's case of "whine flu" than she is worried about the almost-but-not-quite pandemic. "I'm not really any more scared than I am of the regular, seasonal flu which people keep forgetting also claims lives, especially kids," she said. "I did have a moment's pause when I heard a child was sick in the town we'll be visiting on our vacation, but we stress good hand washing in our family, our daughter is largely healthy and we aren't planning a trip to Mexico itself. We can't put our kids in bubbles, we just have to use good common sense."

As for me, I usually go from zero to 60 and back down to 10 in a matter of days, if not hours. (It's really fun. Try it. Takes years off your life.) I'm always pretty quick on the draw when it comes to hand sanitizer; I recently switched to an au naturale version so I could spray it on the children and not feel like I was dousing them with more chemicals. (They get plenty of those when we eat candy loaded with carnuba wax. Yum!) I had a cold/flu recently and spent most of that time convincing myself that I did not, in fact, have swine flu. (My complete lack of a fever was the first clue.) The kids have had a cold off and on for weeks, as kids often do, and I admit to being worried about the possibility that they had the dreaded disease.

Sometimes the fears can come from those who mean well -- our doctors. ABC News correspondent JuJu Chang (who writes a blog called JuJu Juggles) relayed the following tale to me via email: "My 8 year old came down with a fever, extreme fatigue, cough. Took him to the pediatrician who swabbed him for flu and cultured him for strep. The doc poked his head in the room and said... The preliminary results look like he's positive for Mexican Swine Flu. And we sat there and had a brief tamiflu, school closure, how-did-he-get-it? conversation before the nurse popped her head in and said 'it's negative!'" Despite a few moments of fear, all's well that ends well -- no swine flu, no strep throat. Just your garden variety virus that all kids get from time to time.

Well, maybe not all kids. One option for parents who are worried about their children getting sick at school is to keep them home. Of course, if you want to do that for more than a day or two, you need to do the homeschooling thing. Frank D.McCollum, the founder and director of Red Oak Academy (a company that offers various services to homeschoolers), told me via email that Red Oak is "experiencing an unprecedented number of early enrollees for the coming Academic year (2009-2010)." He doesn't say that this is because of swine flu fears, per se, since he saw an increase in "new enrollees taking seriously the threat of contagious diseases, acts of terrorism and school violence" starting back in 2003. As for the H1N1 virus, McCollum said the following: "My personal position is this - this strain of H1N1 will probably fizzle out in the next few weeks, but will reemerge in the fall or later down the line in a more virulent strain. It will not enter most families' homes unless parents or their children bring it in. There is no better environment for the incubation of contagious disease than a warm steamy classroom. This is one of many systemic problems embedded in the organizational structure of public schools." McCollum is generally a fan of homeschooling, saying that "all families who wish to avoid the dangers I mentioned above as well as the various influences of 'other people's kids' should consider home schooling."

We want to know what you think. Are you panicking about the virus formerly known as swine flu, now called H1N1? Were you panicked, but have calmed down? Or were you always low-key about the whole thing?

Brett Singer is the editor-in-chief of DaddyTips.com. You can follow his tweets at Twitter.com/brettsinger.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.