Who is afraid of the flu

Hayden Henshaw, 18, got sick on a Tuesday in late April. He was at his high school in Cibolo, Texas, just outside San Antonio, when he came down with a fever of 103°F (39°C) and felt nauseated. Three days later, his doctor confirmed he had a mysterious new strain of swine flu that had just hit the U.S. — a virus that would eventually be labeled H1N1 of 2009. Health officials came to Hayden's house and asked him dozens of questions. Texas health officials took some measures including closing all 14 schools, wiping down the school district's 100-plus buses,etc. At the time, no one knew how deadly the virus was — or how many people had it.

Hayden and his family handled this storm of ambiguity with relative grace showing that they were "just a normal family with a virus." His parents were worried but also grateful that health officials were taking the matter seriously. Other people, however, seemed to want more drama out of the story. Early on, when the family agreed to do a local TV-news interview and was even asked by the producers to wear face masks on camera. Meanwhile, regular people, some of their friends, started acting strangely toward the Henshaws. Their immediate neighbors and their friends from church were generous and helpful, but other neighbors crossed the street before walking in front of the Henshaw house. Hayden’s classmates even accused his family of exploiting the situation, making money off TV interviews. Some Bloggers accused pharmaceutical companies of intentionally concocting the virus in order to sell vaccines. On one website, conspiracy theorists researched public records about the Henshaws and deduced that they were actually victims of radiation poisoning — possibly from a dirty bomb smuggled in through Mexico.

Hayden's case is a flare in the darkness, a warning that as the nation begins its second big battle with a strange flu virus. It brings a threat that we are not particularly skilled at overcoming. The battle ahead is psychological as much as it is medical.

In June the CDC organized 15 focus groups in three cities to discuss the public's impressions of the new flu so far. In an Atlanta group, the organizers had people read a news story about a real-life, healthy teenage girl from Milwaukee who had caught H1N1 in the spring and died. The group reacted with intense discomfort and some speculated that the girl's doctor must have made a mistake and that's why she died.

Medically speaking, we are far better prepared than we used to be. We have global surveillance to track the evolution of the virus, antiviral drugs to help reduce the suffering, antibiotics to treat dangerous secondary infections like pneumonia, and real-time communications to spread the word. Soon we will almost certainly have a vaccine as well. The CDC, along with state and local health officials, will launch the most ambitious mass-vaccination campaign in U.S. history. This will be a new vaccine since the regular vaccine for seasonal flu will offer no protection against H1N1, and so far, it appears that the risks of serious side effects are extremely low. Since we already know there will not be enough vaccine for everyone right away. So the priority will be to vaccinate high-risk people, such as those with chronic conditions like diabetes.

Nearly half the country — pregnant women, children and everyone with asthma, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease — will face a higher risk of getting seriously sick. As the weather cools and children warehouse germs in school, many more Americans than normal may become sick with the flu, especially people under age 25 are more likely to get sick. If they had a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, that will be a safe assumption. Most who get it will be quite ill for about a week and then recover and even don’t require treatment. But the virus could become far more deadly at any time.

So far, this strain of H1N1 has proved blessedly mild. So far, at least, many people get it; not many die. But mild is a tricky word. A microbiologist at the CDC named Michael Shaw says: "It may be mild in the majority of cases, but the more cases you have, the more chances you have of infecting someone for whom it will not be mild. There are lots of kids with asthma."

So what is the most sensible way for us to calibrate the risks posed by H1N1? Research into human decision-making has shown that if people feel as though they can influence their destiny, they tend to make smarter choices. But if authorities warn them not to panic, people may make worse decisions. The nation's most informed public-health experts need to share their best guesses, or people will find worse information somewhere else. People who study risk recommend seeking out information and not relying on emotion alone. Give your brain something to do. Be careful about relying too much on TV news, a highly emotional medium. The brain can stagnate if it marinates in fear for too long.

* Clinical Guard Provides non-contact thermometers to help you monitor your flu symptoms.

* Source Article: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1924228-1,00.html