How many new cases of swine flu appeared in recent days?
Reuters says there are "reports this week of nearly a dozen swine flu cases linked to attendance at fairs where sick pigs were present."
NPR reports that there were "at least a dozen in just the last seven days."
WebMD and Medpage Today also report 12 cases. Whatever the exact number (and these differences appear to reflect different ways of qualifying the figures), this seems to be an important story. But it received only modest coverage.
The stories are based on a warning from the CDC that people who attend county fairs can eat the corn dogs but should stay away from the live pigs. The flu isn't serious. Those who have contracted it have recovered without hospitalization. But Daniel J. DeNoon at WebMD points out, that the flu "carries the M gene from the human H1N1 pandemic flu bug. This gene makes it easier for flu bugs to infect humans and spread among them." Is this the beginning of a new epidemic, he asks? "Maybe. Maybe not."
Call me a glass-half-empty guy, but I hear "maybe" a lot clearer than "maybe not."
Michael Smith at Medpage Today weighs in with a decent story, as does Marissa Evans at The Washington Post. But Deborah Kotz at The Boston Globe underplays it in only four grafs. Allen Bernard also turns in a solid story, although the lede gave me pause: "People flocking to agriculture fairs across the United States were wanred on Friday to be cautious around pigs..." I'm a city kid, and I don't need anyone from the CDC to remind me to be cautious around pigs. I'm always cautious around pigs. I'm even nervous around chickens.
The stories did point out, appropriately, that most of the cases occurred in people who had had contact with pigs. It's my opinion, however, that this story should have received far wider coverage.
In his history of the 1918 flu, America's Forgotten Pandemic, Alfred W. Crosby notes that the flu is a kind of devilish trick, as if someone had tried to design the deadliest possible disease that humans will barely notice. The clever thing about the flu is that it has a relatively low mortality rate, but almost all of us are likely to get it eventually. "If influenza afflicts ten million people all across the land, 50,000 of whom die, few outside the health professions take much notice," Crosby writes.
Twelve cases isn't many. And nobody has died--yet. But we should take more notice.