Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine fever

Watching Sunrise this morning in an attempt to gather the necessary motivation to throw myself off a tall building, I was delighted to see one person's response to the swine flu epidemic. Worried by the hysteria, and suffering from flu-like symptoms, she had decided that the best course of action was to email Sunrise to say that she was feeling unwell. Quite what she expected Oliver Driver and Generic Blonde TV Presenter Woman #43 to do about it I am unsure, but it served as a neat metaphor - don't ask me for details - for the coverage of the 'epidemic' in the media.

As 'gazzaj' pointed out yesterday in this very blog, there has been unexpected comic potential in the swine flu 'ticker' on the Herald website. It would essentially follow this logic:
  • Time t - Uh oh, swine flu.
  • Time t+1 - Person x may have swine flu.
  • Time t+2 - Person x doesn't have swine flu.
With the constant stream of news about people with sniffles, the whole thing is certainly manna from heaven for the few people still with jobs in newsrooms. I'm just a little concerned about the meaning of the whole thing. The large Herald graphic on the front page of today's paper doesn't really clear things up. In Canterbury, seven people have apparently been tested with flu symptoms. Right. And how many people in Canterbury would normally show flu symptoms in April? I know they're a hardy breed down south; I just hope that this scare doesn't affect the major local industries - prostitution and racism. Christchurch-baiting aside, I'm a bit unclear in general as to quite what the terminology being used in the media means. The latest Herald update online - there's no point linking to it; seeing as swine flu is the only thing happening in the world at the moment, just go to nzherald.co.nz - is headlined "56 suspected cases of swine flu in New Zealand". Speaking of the 56, here's Health Minister and longtime EtH favourite Tony Ryall:

"These are people who have been in Mexico or the United States in the last two weeks. They are people who may or may not have influenza A."

They may or may not have influenza A - check. But what is the relationship between influenza A and swine flu?
Swine flu - a strain of influenza A - is suspected of causing at least 149 deaths in Mexico and infecting nearly 2000.
So, in other words, these 56 "suspected cases" are people who may or may not have an infection that may or may not be swine flu. In other news, I may or may not have a lottery ticket that may or may not win me a million dollars. I may or may not get an email from the Herald that may or may not offer me the job of my dreams.

Meanwhile, in a heart-wrenching, That's Life-worthy true-life story on the front page, a family is "under attack" - unfortunately not literally - after a young man (aka youth) played football on the weekend after arriving back from Mexico, thus spreading the deadly contagion in a move that may end the world as we know it:

"We feel responsible that we have exposed people and we are also being somewhat attacked for it," the teen's mother, who asked not to be named, told the Herald yesterday.

"We are all running a bit scared because now the media are all after us."

The teenager has also received text messages attacking him.

Uh oh, text bullying.

Mr Corporaal [the boy's coach] said that because the boy reported that his doctor had cleared him to play, he put him on. He played three-quarters of the match and scored a goal.

So it was all worth it in the end.

"The exposure has not come from just this family. I know another family said they went down to the supermarket. A child from another family has gone back to university."

The woman said her son arrived home with a cough - "a small, upper respiratory infection. It's getting better."

So this news article on the front page of New Zealand's largest circulation daily newspaper could have been headlined: "Boy coughs, gets better".

I'm not, of course, complaining about the actions taken by public health authorities - it seems clear that they should treat it with a worst case scenario in mind. The media spreading hysteria with opportunistic reporting? Not so much. It seems to me that pretty much everyone's reaction to this news should be... nothing at all.


  1. I'm just glad that the word SWINE is back in common parlance. Can you remember when a new piece of technology was called a GIZMO? Now they just stick I- in front of an existing word.

  2. I would be much more worried about iSwine flu.

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  4. On the Swine Media frenzy, I quite liked "Shoppers steer clear of pork products" for an absolutely stupid article. It thoughtfully mentioned "some Asian shoppers" were not buying pork products. To add to the message, the reporter noted that 100 boxes of luncheon sausage had been destroyed - although it was in China, and unrelated to Swine flu (just a little chemical contamination, that’s all). In fact the meat was "unidentified" so may not even have been pork.

    The whole article really just came across as the reporter (Lincoln Tan) asking a couple of people if they were worried about buying Pork, and then turning it into a story when they said "umm".

  5. yeah, it might infect my iPOD via those annoying iHOGS http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=ihog

  6. Where is the Pork Council when you need one?? You wouldn't catch the Packaging Council sitting on it's ass if Packaging Flu got blanket media coverage.

    Tomorrow's Your Views Topic: Should eating pork cause swine flu?

  7. I bet Mike King is the first NZ death from swine flu.

  8. James,what exactly is the job of your dreams
    at the Herald ? Because I don't think you'd like
    working there.

  9. gazzaj That has to be one of the best proposed YV topics we've seen. Someone should really send it in to the editor, I think it could slip through.

  10. God damn Nanny state, telling me what does and doesn't cause swine flu...

  11. Porcine flu. Please.

  12. Aparantly some countries have now issued travel warnings about New Zealand based on our reported 56 cases of Porcine Flu (read 56 people panicked because they coughed).

    Of course the media (TVNZ is worse than granny H this time)doesn't influence public opinion or sensationalise, it only reports the news. Complete and utter tits.

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  14. Yay! YV's has weighed in on the issue:

    "Are you concerned that one or more of your children may be killed horribly by a global swine flu pandemic?"

    Has anyone noticed that the United States and Mexico are both republics and have confirmed swine flu? The UK and New Zealand as kingdoms are only suspected to have cases of swine flu.
    Coincidence ,well probably.

    Righto. I don't think even Hobbes made this argument for the monarchy but it sounds plausible I guess.

    I remember a neighbour who was just a young girl at the time of the Spanish Influenza.Her father burnt sulphar through-out the house.And not one member of her family came down with the Spanish Flu whereas her neighbours came down with it and died as a result.So what I will do is build up on natural protection e.g garlic.
    Gotta love that logic - sulphur prevented spanish flu, therefore I will use garlic.

    What I'm concerned about is maths. We have a potential pandemic. We potentially have the cure, 1.3 million doses.
    There are 4.3 million people in NZ.
    Who gets use of the lifeboats in case of an emergency?

    Good point. I assumed they'd give it to whoever was infected but maybe we'd have to draw straws. I guess if you were extra lucky, got the Tamiflu but didn't get sick you could just save it for next time.

  15. I hope the price of pork comes down as a result. Its been ages since I had some nice juicy pork chops.

  16. mmmm... pork chops...

  17. Bringing the topic back to my favourite hobbie horse..."MSM Chimp Watch" it has been theorised (rather crudely imho) that HIV first jumped species via an amorous Man (or Woman) / Chimp love moment...no one has yet joined the potential dots with regards to Swine Flu....thought I'd let you scoop the world!

    This is Mexico after all...the country that inspired the Dirty Sanchez...

  18. Nice article. Pretty funny.