Time to stop causing unnecessary panic over flu

By Molly Lynch

As someone who hopes to be a part of the media world after I finish my journalism degree, I have to say that within the past week, I’ve been pretty embarrassed for journalists.

Anyone with a pulse is aware that the swine flu outbreak has swept the United States, but not in the sense that a large number of people have died.

The real overkill that exists is the incessant and unnecessary news media coverage of the sickness, which is, in turn,  affecting the ways in which we live our lives—and maintain our sanity.

With recent headlines like “Swine flu plagues the nation” flooding major news outlets and airwaves, and “Cover Your Cough” signs plastered all over the hallways in schools and work environments, it’s no wonder that Americans are reacting quite drastically to the swine flu. The sensationalized headlines, graphics and photos are literally everywhere.

But seriously, America, enough is enough.

Yes, it’s true that no one would have any idea about the swine flu outbreak if it wasn’t for 24/7 media blasts, but at what point does this coverage and lack of real reporting go too far?

Take, for example, the nation’s infamous anthrax scare that occurred in 2001, which killed only five people. If we remember anything about that disease, it isn’t necessarily how horrible anthrax was, but instead how annoyed we felt to turn on the TV and hear about it on every station.

In fact, the anthrax scare almost became somewhat of a joke.  A simple task like going out to get the mail was usually followed with a jovial, “You might get anthrax!”

In a situation like this, it’s important to remember that there is a fine line between informing people and just plain terrifying them.

It seems as though whenever any medical crisis makes its way to the States, tacking the words “emergency,” “deadly” or “pandemic” almost immediately raises the anxiety of Americans, too often causing an unnecessary panic. According to a Reuters AlertNet article, Google searches of “swine flu” spiked to 5.4 million on April 28 alone.

Dr. Jon LaPook, chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News, wrote in his April 28 Huffington Post article that “nobody wants to overreact, but nobody wants to be caught unprepared.” This statement comes very close to what a lot of Americans are thinking lately, and we must take this as our opportunity to question the responsibility of our media.

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are also seeing a surge in mentions of swine flu, a lot of which seem to be rumors intended to spread uninformed gossip about the disease.

Because so many people are relying on these sites for building their own opinions, it seems as if the panic and rumors are spreading faster than actual facts associated with swine flu.

Though it’s important for media outlets to not shy away from reporting on swine flu, this is a sickness that could very well fizzle out within a few weeks.

Until there has been a significant death toll reported, it’s unfair to dominate the entire morning, evening and late-night news solely covering swine flu updates. Even President Barack Obama said in a press conference that swine flu is a cause for concern, but “not yet a cause for alarm.”

So, turn off your TV. Cover your cough. Wash your hands. Beyond trivial medical precautions like these—ones that most of us probably learned in the third grade—there really is little more we can do than use our common sense.