Health warning and disclaimer: I have no idea whatsoever about Swine Fever, in common with most, but that won’t stop me. Ring a special number if you have any flu-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, red eyes or a headache. These symptoms are consistent with taking Bolivian Marching Powder and/or getting bladdered. So if you’ve been out on the lash at the weekend, just ring into work and explain your flu-like symptoms in an artifically croaky voice like you do most Mondays.
Thus has belatedly contracted Clown Fever, a pandemonium of utter bollocks sweeping the globe, whose symptoms include jabbering about mutating viruses as though it was a done deal. I do confess myself awestruck by the ease in which overpaid Geneva NGO Strangelovess at the World Health Organisation can apply a Lickert scale to the improbable/impossible, add the word ‘pandemic’, create wholesale panic and be fulsomely praised for their efforts. It’s akin to paying outrageous sums to a bunch of wierdos in Lausanne for the privilege of convincing despotic regimes to run around bullying everyone with the Olympic flame, bankrupting cities building pointless velodromes and Tae Kwan Do mega dojos and creating hostage-taking scenarios in the name of sport. We all know it will end in tears, but we go along with it, because it gives us something to moan, pontificate and generally waffle about (as I’m doing now). Clown Fever and it will mutate into something else soon, so don’t put that mask on yet. Swine Flu – or H1N1 – the name has mutated to a more deadly James Bondy sounding acronym – has now been downgraded from deadly to a bit of a sniffle. This hides the really interesting part. Usually disasters grow in the telling. Estimates of earthquake deaths, for example, are usually improbably low. (I was on the edges of the 1998 Izmir earthquake and remember hearing initial estimates that only 110 were dead. Though no seismologist, it was clear that you needed to add a couple of noughts to get close). I hope it’s because we want to wish for the best possible outcome – think low and maybe it won’t be as bad as all that. But a pandemic – the widescale distribution of an ‘epidemic,’ a disease whose virulence exceeds normal expectations behaves differently in the media, and quickly spreads to governments. Quarantine me if you like, but I’m not wearing a mask or sneezing into the crook of my elbow, however many trillions of leaflets Gordon Brown prints or mad scientists appear on the news interviewing jobsworths and showing crazy blowups of viruses.
Call me cynical, but I didn’t believe that ‘up to a million’ would die in the UK, the majority from Ealing and Barnet, according to the Metro free newspaper that I unhygenically read over the shoulder of a passenger in the plague-friendly confines of the London Underground last week. Neither do I believe The Economist’s current cover story, that although it may be clever to sneer, the worst is yet to come and the WHO has done the right thing. They told us that invading Iraq was a good idea and their cartoons are simply not funny.
There would be reason to be fearful if we weren’t arriving at the uncomfortable truth that far from the original 179 deaths in Mexico, the ‘real’ figure is now 101. That’s a 56% drop, spooky stuff even for the country that celebrates the Dia de los Muertos when the dead arise and lark about. Technically it’s an epidemic, given that the flu can be transmitted ‘human to human’ but so is virtually every form of virus and all forms of flu (which apparently kills up to 250,000 people worldwide every year, according to the same WHO – note the phrase ‘up to’ – another symptom of Clown Flu). Technically it’s a pandemic, in that it has spread to quite a few countries. We in Britain (naturally the most-prepared nation, according to Great Helmsman Gordon) isolated and hospitalised two Scottish honeymooners, recently returned from Mexico, who passed on the flu to their friend, who has also recovered. Other countries are rushing to produce victims. Lebanese folk has been forbidden to greet each other with kisses on both cheeks. Egypt has set about slaughtering all its 250,000 pig population for no scientific reason whatsoever and with no reported victims. Gordon Brown has spent £150 million of borrowed cash on masks and has visited a call centre. All symptoms of Clown Flu.
This flu, or any other, cannot be compared to ‘pandemics’ such as Spanish Flu, Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, Avian Flu (SARS) or, for that matter, Bubonic Plague. The circumstances and prevailing levels of health of those affected in all cases, not to mention medical aid available, all played a huge part in the mortality rates. I’m genuinely sorry for the poor Mexicans who died – I bet they were literally poor – but we haven’t heard that much about them thus far. The overwhelming majority of those who died from SARS were dirt poor agricultural/factory labourers in unhygenic conditions. The 1968 pandemic mostly killed old and infirm people (as did the unseasonal cold weather in continental Europe last year). The 1918 flu epidemic needs no explanation. Neither does the 1347 Black Death.
Millions die every year of malaria and tuberculosis, eminently curable diseases, for the same reason: they are poor. A spot of flu isn’t going to kill us all. Clown Fever, whereby the media go berserk and governments run in circles, screaming and shouting like hysterics at a Dia de los Muertos festival, is an endemic global media condition affecting common sense: far more difficult to control, much less to eradicate.