[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Image by striatic via Flickr"][/caption]
The Swine Flu that has already killed 81 people in Mexico and infected over a thousand more has now reached New York City. At least 8 students at a high school in Queens have been confirmed to be suffering from this particular strain.
Students in New York Fall Ill, and Swine Flu Is Suspected - NYTimes.com.
The question is, should we panic? I remember a few years ago reading one of those stories in a local paper about how we're due for a pandemic influenza. Apparently these things have cycles of 20 years and therefore "we're due" for a major flu outbreak that will kill tens of thousands of people worldwide.
The article suggested hoarding enough water and food to stay in your house for a few weeks, even a month, since if a major pandemic hits, you don't want to go out into the world and get infected. Furthermore, food and supplies may not be delivered if everyone is too sick to drive the trucks or staff the grocery store.
I know nothing about epidemology or flu pandemics. I do, however, know when panic is being created in order to create a sense of order and calm. This sort of "controlled panic" has a long history in the field of sociology. According to Jackie Orr's Panic Diaries, post World War II sociology was filled with people trying to keep order in the face of growing panic. As Americans began to comprehend the threat of nuclear war and the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD- that's where we bomb the Russians and they bomb us and we both destroy each other and the world and therefore don't bomb anyone... we hope), the social scientists stepped in to turn panic to order.
Sociologists like Talcott Parsons and scientists in the emerging field of cybernetics worked together to control the American population. They developed guides to make us feel safe in the event of a nuclear attack (store food, don't go outside, don't panic!). You've probably seen some of the propaganda that resulted: the duck and cover stuff with school children hiding under their desks as A-bombs land nearby?
I am pretty sure that the response to pandemic flu is similar. "Don't panic. Store water and food just in case you cannot go outside. Stay calm!"
I don't mean to pop this bubble of social control, but if things are so bad that no food is being delivered to my city because everyone's dead or dying then I think I WILL PANIC. Panic will be the appropriate response. Not eating Ramen noodles in my now dark house (presumably no one to work the electricity stuff either) cranking my battery free radio (something also recommended in the flu prep literature), drinking my bottled water (I guess no tap can get through?), trying to stay calm in the face of utter chaos.