Mayor Tom Rist just got back from a trip to Mexico so when he showed up for the council meeting Monday night, and all the council members were wearing medical masks, it was a good gag.
But the swine flu scare isn't all that funny. It's been a long time since the World Health Organization used the kind of language it has used in describing the outbreak of this particularly unusual form of flu, and similarities to the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed, depending of the estimate you use, anywhere from 20 million to 100 million people worldwide, have been raised.
But, while the WHO estimates, that, in a worst-case scenario, up to a million people around the world might die from this flu, it actually isn't time to panic yet.
So far, all of the deaths have occurred in Mexico. While all flu strains kill some infected people each year, so far no one anywhere else in the world has died (as of this writing Tuesday morning). Why it has been so particularly bad in Mexico is unknown at this point.
Perhaps, because medical capabilities in the United States and Canada are so good, we're able to treat the symptoms properly and avoid any deaths.
It will be months before a vaccine is available for this new form of flu, so health officials are urging people to take basic precautions, such as avoiding people who are sick, not going to work or school if you have flu-like symptoms, getting in to see your doctor if you do have those symptoms, and doing basic health procedures such as washing your hands.
It is worth being concerned about. It is worth following the news to track the spread of this infection (in today's interconnected world, it is impossible to prevent it from spreading), but the key thing here is not to panic. It isn't in Idaho (yet), its virulence outside Mexico is currently unknown, and adopting basic precautions like those listed above (no need for masks yet) will probably be adequate to deal with the threat at present.
It is time to be concerned. It isn't time to panic.
-- Kelly Everitt