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Controlling the Bacon Fever Frenzy

As I noted about a week ago, there seems to be a lot of insanity surrounding the current "Swine Flu pandemic" ("swine flu" being the colloquial name for the H1N1 virus). In a continuing goal to fight FUD, replacing it with rational, logical, and intelligent thought, allow me to pull out a few definitions and suggestions to help you cope with the mass hysteria.

1) pandemic: "(of a disease) prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world; epidemic over a large area." Now, this sounds a bit scary, but then let's look at what the World Health Organization (WHO) actually says about a pandemic, since they've raised the alert to Phase 5. From http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/phase/en/:

Phase 5 is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

2) Better context from WHO:
* "As of 06:00 GMT, 4 May 2009, 20 countries have officially reported 985 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection."
* "There is no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products."
* 19 countries have lab-confirmed cases with no deaths.

* "1 May 2009 -- WHO is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the influenza A(H1N1) virus."

3) Better context for the U.S. from the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/: In the US - 36 states with confirmed cases, a total of 286 confirmed cases in the country, and only 1 death reported attributable to H1N1.

The primary recommendations from the CDC? Wash your hands, stay home when sick, rest, recover, recuperate.

4) Comparing H1N1 to avian flu (H5N1).
"23 April 2009 - Of the 67 cases confirmed to date in Egypt, 23 have been fatal."

So, yeah, the strength and danger of swine flu pales in comparison with avian flu.

5) Opportunity to introduce common sense to HR policies. One of my biggest pet peeves is with paid time off. Many companies lump sick leave in with vacation time, mainly because of some misguided big brother nanny culture idea that people might fake being sick, and thus should not be trusted. The problem with this philosophy is that limiting sick leave discourages people from staying home when they are sick, thus greatly increasing the likelihood that one sick person will infect most of an office. Such policies are lunatic and need to be brought into the modern age.

Similarly, work from home policies are often quite backward despite significant advances in technology. Want to know how to deal with a pandemic? Make sure your workers can work from home, and encourage them to do so. Oh, and btw, guess what? Work-from-home policies also are good for the environment in that they help reduce the number of cars on the road, and thus help reduce emissions. Can't get much more green than that.

6) Skip the FUD, use your brain. If the mainstream media is covering it at a frenzied pitch, it's usually safe to assume that the actual risk represented is low. More people die in car accidents each day than have died from the swine flu (see http://www.car-accidents.com/pages/stats.html). "About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States -- one death every 13 minutes." So, let's put things into perspective a bit here. 1 death from swine flu in the US, less than 300 confirmed infections, versus 115 deaths per days from traffic accidents.

If you really want to reduce deaths, I highly recommend investing in feasible mass transit. There's really no good reason why there aren't high-speed and light-rail trains connecting major cities and regional areas. For example, here in Arizona, there should be rail service from Phoenix to Tucson, Flagstaff, and Albuquerque, NM, as well as to LA, San Diego, Denver, Vegas, and SLC. Use airplanes for long-haul trips, but then use electric-based rail for the rest. If I didn't have to drive to work every day, I would not be sad. If I didn't have to drive to my favorite hiking and camping spots, even better.

Apply a modicum of common sense in the face of blatant hysteria. A little perspective is worth a lifetime of stress-inducing FUD.


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