Swine Flu Rx: Be Alert But Not Alarmed?

A man jumps with alarm after reading the newspaper.
Writer Bill Adler says he'll change his routine if fatalities from swine flu start to increase. i i

Writer Bill Adler says he'll change his routine if fatalities from swine flu start to increase. Courtesy Bill Adler hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Bill Adler
Writer Bill Adler says he'll change his routine if fatalities from swine flu start to increase.

Writer Bill Adler says he'll change his routine if fatalities from swine flu start to increase.

Courtesy Bill Adler
Swine Palace manager Kristin Sosnowsky says so far, her friends in Baton Rouge are keeping it cool. i i

Swine Palace Managing Director Kristin Sosnowsky says so far, her friends in Baton Rouge are keeping it cool. Courtesy Kristin Sosnowsky hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Kristin Sosnowsky
Swine Palace manager Kristin Sosnowsky says so far, her friends in Baton Rouge are keeping it cool.

Swine Palace Managing Director Kristin Sosnowsky says so far, her friends in Baton Rouge are keeping it cool.

Courtesy Kristin Sosnowsky

The swirling rise of swine influenza, President Obama said Monday, "is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it is not a cause for alarm."

With never-sleep cable news and Web sites keeping up the constant chatter, there is no dearth of information about, or warnings of, the recent flu outbreaks. The trick for public-health officials — on display around the clock — is to get people to pay attention, but not panic.

So how are Americans responding to this new strain of influenza? Are they concerned? Alarmed? Paying no attention whatsoever?

Chef Cathy Schneeman at Jackson Oaks retirement home in Paducah, Ky., says that residents are well aware of the news but are not that concerned. "People weren't talking about it at breakfast. The only thing they were talking about was the size of the shrimp in last night's shrimp creole."

On the other hand, Bill Adler, a writer in Washington D.C., is on alert. There is, he says, so much uncertainty that surrounds this particular virus, "it's almost inevitable that it will hit people in Washington, the way it spreads. This is a very international city."

Adler, who is married and the father of two school-age children, says he hasn't taken any concrete steps toward prevention. "We haven't changed our routines. Yet."

He says he probably will never wear a face mask because his beard makes it uncomfortable — and because he's not sure it works. He says he still has plans to visit Boston and New York in the coming weeks. "But there is one factor that would change the way I am behaving," he adds. "If fatalities increase."

Jason Chambers, who teaches the history of advertising at the University of Illinois, gives the government good marks so far. "Right now I would say health officials are doing a good job balancing between causing a panic and providing information," Chambers says.

And, he says, the government is being proactive, letting people know that it's trying to develop a vaccine and is establishing means of support in case there is an epidemic. "The government," he adds, "is being proactive, not reactive, as in the cases of SARS or Hurricane Katrina."

Meanwhile, at the Swine Palace theater company in Baton Rouge, Managing Director Kristin Sosnowsky says, "I haven't observed anyone around me showing any particular alarm over the flu, although the few people I know who work in the medical field are closely monitoring the situation."

For David Daigle, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the more interest people show in swine flu, the better off they will be. "If the CDC is going to err," he says, "we want to err on the side of too much information."

He says, "Your average person, we don't want them running out to buy masks or stock up on Tamiflu." But he does want people going to the CDC Web site for guidance. The site has already gotten millions of hits, and that makes Daigle happy. "We are excited. As we have told everyone: Be prepared and be informed."

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