When my article, asking “are you worrying too much about H1N1 flu?” appeared on SciScoop last week I was a little nervous. I checked it once, twice, and then wondered if anything I’d said could indicate a small amount of mental illness or a mid-age onset of obsession… I don’t believe there was another shooter on the grassy knoll, and there is no star or disease I want to stalk, so it’s all good and therapy will not be required. Thankfully.
So why is H1N1 so fascinating to the public? We can all justify certain numbers of mortality and morbidity. Certainly Americans made a great attempt at ignoring AIDS in the past and the present. Bird Flu has been followed closely, but since the lady next door didn’t die from it, it didn’t hold our attention long.
The Anthrax scare didn’t dent us emotionally, nor have we been terribly upset by the potential for bio-terror attacks.
Never before have we been able to track illness onsets with interactive maps, nor has the CDC and WHO been seen as they have today. Their officials stood before us on TV and while certainly not rockstars we know them as people. Not just as those mysterious Atlanta, London, and Swiss based institutions rattling test tubes, or flying off when Ebola breaks out. We get the impression they are actually doing their jobs, that they might owe us, the public, the best information. And of course they have a pulse back to the public via the internet, tweets, and blogs unlike past administrations.
They tell us ‘not to panic…but here is where we stand today.’ The public can now digest on the macro level what H1N1 might or might not mean to people. Not everyone is so intrigued that they have bothered to study the subject. I am still being asked questions about sanitizers. Or those who want to deny the topic of worthwhile discussion as they compare H1N1 to the Black Plague. So in some sense are we still in 8th grade, and want to compare apples and oranges because it’s easier?
Then there are those who would like to hijack the implications of H1N1 and apply it to wars, immigration policies, or aliens… to which you can only say ‘whatever!’ extracting a small measure of passive-aggressive satisfaction.
The fascination with H1N1 existss because it’s real. People can be pretty smart. Whatever context they have to apply, to understand H1N1, they are doing that. While some like saying they are medical professionals, don’t let that intimidate you. H1N1 is not a hot topic in med school, but that could, of course, change. Sometimes it’s farmers and ranchers that have worked with animals, Vets who treated animals, Bio-engineers, or granny Hatfield who lived through the 1918 epidemic of Spanish Flu that will give you the straightest point of view.
I actually believe the public can digest the information of how H1N1 works. Some of us would like to hear it about it’s micro-functions… my husband shakes his head no at that. RNA is so ‘not sexy’ as a disease topic. Maybe we want to know about the first researchers organized by William Welch in 1918 to study, treat and solve influenza. To what degree we become knowledgeable is up to us. But we are ready for some top-notch journalism on the subject. The public is ready for information beyond hand washing and space barriers to interrupt infections.
Kathy Holley is a former working nurse and a writer with experience in covering topics such as mad cow disease, genomics, and female health issues.