AS NOTED in GoogleWatch, our new blog, the number of people googling the words "swine flu" dropped off precipitously this past week.
"According to Google's Insights for Search tool, search volume for the keywords 'swine flu' peaked on April 30 and has been declining ever since." (See post here.)
It seems the average citizen has figured out that the swine flu scare was just that -- a scare. It took the CDC somewhat longer to catch on.
From the start some of us have been wondering, how is this flu different? Aside from leading the news every night for two weeks, isn't it doing what all influenzas do, i.e. making people sick?
It's been my personal theory that there's nothing very interesting about this flu -- it's a new strain, but they're all new strains. The difference this time is technological, in that we're now able to identify and track an influenza strain, map its progress daily and then freak out via the Internet as we watch it jump around.
On Monday a New York Times health columnist tried to address some of these issues in Q&A format:
Q: Regular flu kills 150 people a day during flu season. Why is everyone so concerned about this one?
A: This is a new and unusual virus. Most flu viruses have two genetic elements, but H1N1 has four: two types of swine flu, a bird flu and some human flu genes ...
So, it's a hybrid germ-monster. Which is scary, but I wonder if all such viruses aren't equally bizarre in one way or another. What's scariest here, I think, is the flush of recognition.
The writer went on to note that "it is a historical precedent that fuels most of the present concern," and that's the best point to make about the recent flu scare. The Spanish Influenza of 1918 killed tens of millions of people, and epidemiologists haven't forgotten. In the end I'd prefer that, with all our modern apparatus, we overreact rather than underreact.
But it sure was satisfying, this past week, to turn off the TV whenever the news came on.