With our current ability to communicate almost instantaneously, Americans were able to fall victim to fear in 2009 with incredible speed. Our panic proved to be unwarranted as 99% of those who came down with the HINI flu were never seriously ill. This is not to discount the tragedy the swine flu was for those who lost loved ones. According to an internet report posted January 15, 2010, 11,200 people have died of this flu. We offer heartfelt condolences to each family, but these are not epidemic figures. The regular seasonal flu causes approximately 36,000 deaths.
What were the driving forces behind our panic? The first cases of HINI flu in this country occurred in April 2009. In Mexico, some 200 people had already died. On April 24th, a spokesman for the World Health Organization announced that these cases indicated a "public health emergency of international concern."
When we have 24-hour-a-day-news channels eager to latch onto anything terrifying, plus internet blogs that just plain make stuff up, panic was not long in the making. So why didn't the medical arm of our government calm us down? Why didn't the Center for Disease Control issue reassuring news bulletins? Why was our fear allowed to balloon into a full-blown panic attack?
Beginning in 2005, federal and state governments began stockpiling the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza at a cost of more than $1.5 billion dollars. Was there some underlying anxiety about the shelf life of these drugs? When governments spend billions on armaments, they make sure they have an identified enemy to justify the expenditures. Who was behind convincing the masses they needed to get vaccinated and quick?
Who were the big winners in this fiasco? 1. The media. For months, they fed on the frenzy they helped create. 2. The CDC. Their interest was served. 3. Doctors. Their offices were overrun with patients. 4. Roche, maker of Tamiflu, and Glaxo, Smith, Kline, makers of Relenza. Their stock prices soared as demand for their drugs exploded.
Who were the big losers? The rest of us. Tamiflu, which the CDC had been stockpiling at tremendous cost, proved to be of little worth. It possibly shortened the length of the flu for some, but did not keep the 1% struck down hard from developing fatal complications. After 20 clinical trials were evaluated, the World Health Organization admitted as much.
This is not the first time that the medical profession has made poor or self-serving decisions. Medical history is full of such "mistakes." In the 1840s, in Vienna a young doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, was director of Clinic A in the Lying In Wards. In Clinic A, student doctors attended the women while in Clinic B midwives-in-training did. Up to five times as many patients died in Clinic A as in Clinic B, which was driving Dr. Semmelweis into despair.
The doctors under his supervision performed autopsies and then went directly into the Lying in Ward without washing their hands. Dr. Semmelweis came to the conclusion that the doctors were picking up something deadly from the corpses and carrying it into the ward to infect the new mothers. This was a startling insight in 1847 - it was decades before the germ theory of disease was developed - but Semmelweiss immediately ordered his doctors to wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution after completing an autopsy. The death rate in Clinic A dropped dramatically as a result.
Semmelweiss' fellow doctors were furious. It was easier to continue killing women than to admit any guilt. Semmelweiss lost his job and was ridiculed and harassed. He left Vienna and moved to Budapest. There, he obtained an unpaid job as the head physician in an obstetric ward. Before his arrival, childbirth fever was rampant. Under his supervision, the death rate dropped to 0.85%, one maternal death in 933 births.
Again, he was blacklisted for changing the status quo. He suffered a complete emotional breakdown and died at the age of 47, a broken man. In September 1820, the English poet John Keats sailed for Italy, hoping to be cured of tuberculosis. He arrived in Rome feverish, coughing and wretchedly thin. He soon hemorrhaged. A Scottish doctor, Dr. James Clark, was called. He administered the usual treatment, bleeding. The following day, Keats hemorrhaged again, so again the doctor bled him. Not long after, Keats died at the age of 23.
For centuries, the standard treatment for any health problem was bleeding, based on the theories of the Greek physician Galen. This ancient teaching did away with any need to re-examine the status quo. Currently, doctors have an arsenal of drugs, some effective, some totally useless and others completely toxic. Following medical protocols is important, but one should not blindly follow them when common sense should prevail. One should question the reason for the H1N1 hysteria that forced the masses to get vaccinated for an illness that was no more deadly than the seasonal flu. Promulgating a status quo that is fixed on increasing the power and influence and, yes, profits of Big Pharma is a very scary thing indeed.
"Plagues Past and Present, A Mind/Body Approach" by J. H. Hacsi explores the power of the mind to keep us well. Throughout history, we have changed our cultural patterns and also our plagues. This groundbreaking book connects the two. Paper, $14, available at Amazon.com or on order from any bookstore.