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Flu Overhyped? Some Say Officials 'Cried Swine'

Flu Overhyped? Some Say Officials 'Cried Swine'

(Source: Associated Press)

Lindsey Tanner and Mike Stobbe, Associated Press

May 11, 2009

CHICAGO — Did government health officials “cry swine” when they sounded the alarm on what looked like a threatening new flu?

The so-far mild swine flu outbreak has many people saying all the talk about a devastating global epidemic was just fear-mongering hype. But that’s not how public health officials see it, calling complacency the thing that keeps them up at night.

The World Health Organization added a scary-sounding warning Thursday, predicting up to 2 billion people could catch the new flu if the outbreak turns into a global epidemic.

Many blame such alarms and the breathless media coverage for creating an overreaction that disrupted many people’s lives.

Schools shut down, idling even healthy kids and forcing parents to stay home from work; colleges scaled back or even canceled graduation ceremonies; a big Cinco de Mayo celebration in Chicago was canned; face masks and hand sanitizers sold out — all because of an outbreak that seems no worse than a mild flu season.

Two weeks after news broke about the new flu strain, there have been 46 deaths — 44 in Mexico and two in the United States. More than 2,300 are sick in 26 countries, including about 900 U.S. cases. Those are much lower numbers than were feared at the start based on early reports of an aggressive and deadly flu in Mexico.

Public health authorities acknowledge their worst fears about the new virus have not materialized. But no one’s officially saying it’s time to relax. And experts worry that people will become too complacent and tune out the warnings if the virus returns in a more dangerous form in the fall.

“People are taking a sigh of relief too soon,” said Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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