Now that H1N1 hysteria is dying down a bit, I remember why the term "swine flu" is so indelibly etched in my memory. Way back when I was in Catholic school, we were required to pick a public service volunteer project and carry it out once a week for a year. I signed up with the Red Cross...and was initially assigned to the "Swine Flu Hotline," to take calls from people who wanted information on where to go to be vaccinated, the risks involved etc.
At the time, I was a kid, and far more interested in crossing the whole requirement off my list than in considering any of the issues involved or keeping up with the "swine flu" news.
Only now do I realize what a massive textbook case study in risk vs.benefit the U.S. government's 1976 swine flu immunization program was. (For a summary of the issues and lessons learned, read "Reflections on Swine Flu Vaccination Program" by former CDC Director David Sensor and J. Donald Millar). As they wrote, "Risk assessment and risk management aren't the same thing," and they need to be handled by the right people.
Click here to watch some of the old public service TV commercials that kept the calls coming and gave me something else to do after school every Thursday from 3 to 6 for a few months, until the whole program was discontinued.
The media could learn some restraint and reason by studying the way it responded to the old swine flu panic, and considering its coverage of this one so far.
But governments everywhere can learn from the way Mexico handled May's nightmare, and the way the U.S. government responded to the swine flu scare of 1976.
These are lessons that we'd better learn soon.