The Real Problem with Swine Flu

Everyone is worried about swine flu—as well we should be. If things escalate to pandemic level (which they may), we will all be in big trouble (although washing hands with soap and water is still the best defense). As you can read today on, some think the Mexico outbreak is a result of factory pig farming—by American companies who moved their factories to Mexico for cheaper labor, looser regulations, and therefore cheaper meat for Americans (there sure are a lot of major problems listed in this sentence). In our busy lives, we run to the supermarket and buy some cheap meat, or go out to dinner and eat ribs, chops, or pulled pork sandwiches, and don’t think about what it takes to bring that meat to our table. After all, the kids are hungry and we’ve got to eat something quick, so we can get home in time to watch our favorite shows (I am as guilty of that as anyone). We know we should pay closer attention to where our food comes from. But it’s easy to forget to do the right thing, even when we want to do it.

The flu situation all feels very real to me since this week Lucia (my 2-and-¾-year old) has a stomach bug which has literally knocked her down (that’s hard to do!). She got it from the babysitter, who got it from her husband, and I am fully expecting the rest of us to get it over the next few weeks. Yuk.

At the first sign of vomit, I revert back to tried and true coping methods: a bucket and some towels, ginger ale, saltines, frozen pedia pops and, of course, Jell-O. The saltines are organic, but that’s about it. After a certain point, all I can do as a Mom is snuggle, hover, and watch her while she sleeps—she breathes not peacefully, as in a healthy sleep, but tentatively, as if merely breathing is painful. And when she looks at me with glassy, distant eyes, my heart breaks.

While she sleeps, I can’t help but think about how precious life is (even her sister said Lucia’s cute when she’s asleep!). I also can’t help but think about how many children around the world are dying at this very moment—of hunger, and violence, and disease. The latest report from the World Health Organization says that every year 1.7 million kids under age 5 die of respiratory diseases, 1.6 million die from diarrhea, 936,000 from infections and parasitic diseases, 728,000 from malaria, and 208,000 from AIDS. Before they even have a chance to live, 3.8 million babies die from various causes like low birth weight and birth trauma. Why aren’t we more worried about that? Why aren’t we in a panic about the radical increase in autism in this country (one in every 150 children born has it)? Measles, for which there is a very safe and reliable vaccine, kills over 400,000 kids under age 5 every year.

I am a firm believer that mothers feel the same pain, and the same love, all around the world. And a child’s desire to be loved and to be healthy is the same all around the world. Too often we focus on the minor, insignificant stuff and miss the bigger, more important picture. We—me included—spend a lot of time thinking about who’s going to get kicked off of American Idol, and not a lot of time thinking about where these diseases come from, and how we might help prevent and treat them.

It’s easy to forget to do the right thing. But nature has a way of not letting us forget. I hope we all wake up before it’s too late.


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17 Responses to The Real Problem with Swine Flu

  1. catherine frankenfield April 29, 2009 at 6:50 am #


  2. richard April 29, 2009 at 6:54 am #

    everthing is a pandemic . just go on living!

  3. vicky April 29, 2009 at 8:07 am #

    where are all the animal rights activists now?

  4. steve April 29, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    Dads feel it too. In a recent visit from some friends who just returned from aid work in South Africa we learned this startling fact: by 2010, 30 million children in sub-Saharan Africa will be orphaned as a result of the AIDS epidemic. That’s the entire population of Canada, represented in orphaned children.

    And then I recall that my biggest problem of the moment is that I’m low on coffee (fair trade, of course), and I need to get my muffler fixed.

  5. JG April 29, 2009 at 8:37 am #

    How many times have most people had the flu in their lifetimes? I agree it is dangerous for the very young, the very elderly and people in ill health. Otherwise, just accept the fact that some people are going to catch the flu. No need to agonize about it.

  6. Sheryl April 29, 2009 at 8:44 am #

    You really hit home this morning with all the statistics that so easily become an oversight due to our involvement in our own tasks of daily living. I agree that as a mother, there can be no deeper pain than to lose a child. My compassion runs deep for those who aren’t as fortunate as myself. You’re message has been a real eye opener for me…Thank You!

  7. CW April 29, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Actually I am appalled that there is so much focus and on Aids(all that money and focus when in reality it’s numbers are not as serious and many others) when 8 times as many children ( and I am sure it effects the adults too) and almost 9 times as many in addition die from parasites and respiratory illness. The problem lay in our treatment of the planet. Slash and burn techniques which ruin the land and allow the water to become filthy, and I am sorry but in contradiction to the writer, in many countries animals are worth more and therefor valued higher than human life… a sick planet makes everyone sick. There is one other item that may not make me popular, but the birth rate in these impoverished countries is horrendous. Even wild animals will avoid pregnancy if there isn’t enough food. Shouldn’t they take the hint?

  8. Ed Pleskovitch April 29, 2009 at 9:08 am #

    Ya wanna know something else that is almost as sad as letting kids die of a disease when you/we could help? Actively killing kids in the name of power,corruption,and profit.Tens of thousands of chidren are killed and even raped in Africa from all the continuous wars for power.
    When I was in high school back in 1960-1965 I thought that I had an ulcer worrying about everything.The Bomb,communism,death,war in vietnam made me sick with worry.I mention this because in order to not mentally make myself sick.I learned to pick my battles to worry about and mainly I learned that I can not save the whole world and that some things I just am not able to do anything about.

  9. Vanessa April 29, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    We may not be able to save the world but we can make educated choices. About what we eat and where it comes from. What we do, and how we build a sustainable lifestyle that our children can emulate and improve upon. Be the people we want our children to become. And perhaps holding on the harsh judgements, CW: many women in the developing world don’t have a choice whether they have sex or not, they are chattels, and if the choice is giving birth yet again or a back street quack aborting your foetus, which would you choose?

  10. Lisa Shetty April 29, 2009 at 1:50 pm #

    Wow. I did not expect such a thoughtful, well-written post to be so politically charged. Everybody should just lighten up, wash their hands, and do what they can to live a well-lived life in a responsible way.

  11. Brandon April 29, 2009 at 3:13 pm #

    Eat organic, focus and make changes locally first before overwhelming ourselves with the world. Change yourself, help your fam that is what we have most control over. And I stay away from corporate food, its poison.

  12. Janis April 29, 2009 at 10:01 pm #

    To JG…I don’t think you realize how serious this is! Open your eyes, and read the news!

  13. dinah's kitchen April 30, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    Thank you for your thoughtfull words. In reflection on some of the comments posted, we need to remember that it’s not a “them” and “us” issue. We, each one of us need to think about the choices we make, that may ripple around the world.
    As Maria said, we live in a fast paced world, overloaded with entertainment and distractions, that make it difficult to focus on what’s really important, our love and caring for others.
    When we reach out every day, to make our family and neighbors’ life a little better, on whatever level we can, we are contributing to a healthy world.
    Ancient writers described a day when there would be “critical times, hard to deal with…” and people would be “faint out of fear, not knowing the way out…” but of these days, the writers also wrote hopefully of “..lifting your heads up..your deliverance is near..” and a time when “no resident will say I am sick..” as well as when “..death, mourning nor crying would be no more…Look! all these things are faithful and true.”
    The lesson for us is to act AND think, in ways that promote hope and love not competition and self interest.Blinding ourselves to the problems of this world does not protect ourselves, but could even result in disaster for ourselves. I am a nurse who has worked for many years in long term care. The people who’s life patterns have been mostly self centered, usually find themselves at the end of their lives bitter, angry, and unsatisfied, often alone. I see that those who have a long history of caring and reachinng out to others sometimes at the deferment of their own interests, are usually happier given the health situation they may be in, and are at peace with themselves, and have gathered for themselves a circle of support in friends and family that brings them comfort. We all would hope that that support is available to each of us. We can make that happen by our own attitude of empathy and kindness, and recognizing that we are one people, when the “little toe suffers” we all suffer. Adding comfort to one, comforts all. The UW WI in research on neuron healing, found recently that empathy can be retrained in the human mind. So one kindness today will ripple through the universe, never un-noticed!

  14. maria April 30, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    Thank you all for your incredible thoughts and opinions! I LOVE LOVE LOVE hearing from you!

  15. Steph April 30, 2009 at 1:43 pm #

    We also have to remember that there are many strains of the flu virus. In recent years, because we live in such a digital age, we’ve been made more aware of the spread of such viruses. These types of illnesses, in one form or another, have been around for years and years, spreading through our societies and cultures and mutating as they go. Our 21st century forms of media (24 hr. news channels, internet, cell phones) have made it hard NOT to watch the spread as it’s happening. Sometimes too much news can be pretty harmful. I agree with Lisa, just take precautions in your own life. That’s all each of us can do. To get upset and think it’s going to become a pandemic and begin killing us all off is a bit much.

  16. Brad May 3, 2009 at 10:02 am #

    The garden variety flu killed 36,000 people in the United States last year. The swine flu has killed 1 (I think). Please let me know when I should get concerned.

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