Alex Shoucair: Fight the flu hysteria

We are all going to die. Slowly. Painfully.

Unless, of course, we use some of that conveniently placed “Fight the Flu” hand-sanitizer in the lobby of the buildings on campus. Perhaps I am the only one, but has anyone else grown incredibly weary of GW’s anti-swine flu campaign? One has to wonder what kinds of things this school could accomplish or improve if the administration tackled all problems with the same fervor, effort and funding with which it has targeted the H1N1 virus.

From the ubiquitous hand-sanitizer, to the free (non-H1N1) flu vaccinations, to blast e-mails, to posters on every square inch of campus, the school is running a full-court press against the perceived devastation that the formidable swine flu could wreak. While such an initiative may have seemed wise back in the spring when there was an all-out fear over the pandemic, the measures taken by the school now appear to be overkill. At what point will the school evaluate whether or not this extensive anti-flu campaign is worth both the money it costs and the fear it incites?

Lost in all of the GW (and national) hysteria over swine flu are the facts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 97 percent of recent cases of influenza are of the H1N1 variety, suggesting that it is largely unavoidable. This might sound ominous until you consider the CDC reported the “normal” seasonal influenza hospitalizes 200,000 and kills around 36,000 people per year, meaning 18 percent of hospitalizations. Then consider that at the time of the CDC’s report, the U.S. had seen about 10,000 swine flu hospitalizations and 936 deaths, about nine percent of hospitalizations. When put into the proper context, the threat seems far less potent than one would assume after reading the warning posters plastered across campus.

All of this has led some experts to suggest that the most dangerous aspect of the H1N1 virus is actually the hype and hysteria that surrounds it. A major impact of the hype over swine flu, and one that has affected GW, is that it has caused patients to flood clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices. This puts a significant strain on health care providers. Even the GW Student Health Service prefers patients to simply call the office rather than physically visit, due to the overwhelming number of patients it has been receiving.

Everyone needs to take a step back and a deep breath, the administration included. H1N1 is no deadlier than the typical seasonal flu, and if I don’t contract the virus in the Marvin Center than I’ll just get it when I make my commute on the Metro. GW’s sustained public service campaign isn’t just annoying, it’s possibly dangerous. Its only usefulness at this point is that it has provided students with a convenient climate in which it is easier to get out of classes and exams. That’s exactly why we as a student body need to adopt a sense of responsibility and reason in dealing with this issue while the panic surrounding H1N1 dwindles. In the meantime, I guess we should just take advantage of the free hand-sanitizer while we can.

The writer, a Hatchet columnist, is a junior majoring in Asian studies.

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