The death of a toddler in Houston reverberated around the nation as the first U.S. loss in the swine flu epidemic.
The child’s death presented an interesting problem for consumers of news in the media age. One death, a hundred deaths, a thousand deaths, ten thousand influenza deaths does not translate into a U.S. epidemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that ordinary season influenza kills an average of 36,171 Americans a year.
But hyper-attention to a relatively few Swine Flu deaths, perhaps a hundred or so, leading the nightly news broadcasts and CNN and Fox and MSNBC, with breathless attention to the individual tragedies, will almost certainly make it seem an epidemic. What we’ll really have is an outbreak of surgical masks. There will be a great clamor of for flue swine vaccines.
But given the number of Americans who pass on ordinary flu vaccines each year, despite the wide availability, maybe the media ought to gin up a little panic over seasonal influenza. After all, 36,171 preventable deaths ain’t nothing.