The Reporter, CA
August 31, 2004
By Robin Miller
It's back to school time in Vacaville and we all know what that means -
colds and influenza.
Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of my boys heading off to fill their
minds with knowledge. It's the other stuff they bring home that gives me a
headache - not to mention stomach ache, stuffy nose, soar throat, coughing,
aching, fever and so on.
So imagine my thrill at reading the big news this weekend under the headline
"Threat of flu hovers in U.S.'
The story stated, "The United States may have to close schools, restrict
travel and ration scarce medications if a powerful new flu strain spurs a
worldwide outbreak, according to federal plans to cope with the next
pandemic obtained by the Associated Press."
Health officials apparently are worried about a pandemic, an epidemic that
spreads over a wide area or across the globe.
Adding to the concern, they said, is news that Chiron Corp., the supplier of
half the nation's flu vaccines, will hold up shipment of 50 million flu
shots while it investigates the cause of tainted doses discovered in the
firm's factory in England.
Still, I really can't worry too much. You see, this story has been reported
every year for the past 20 years I've worked in the field of journalism.
I think the "Chicken Littles" are at it again.
Last year at this time, newspapers and television were reporting how vaccine
manufacturers had made the wrong kind of vaccine, anticipating a different
strain of flu than what was coming. Dire predictions of widespread outbreaks
and death were common.
The year before, it was much the same. There were stories about fears of a
widespread outbreak coupled with a shortage of vaccine coming from every
major media outlet.
This year, they fear a mutated flu strain coupled with the tainted doses.
I think it's time to stop worrying. If you are elderly or fall into any of
the groups who are at high risk for complications from influenza, by all
means you should get the flu shot.
Otherwise, some common sense is probably the best medicine.
I say that because so far, I've found the only thing to worry about is
people who come to school or work sniffing, sneezing and coughing all over
the place. And a regular bit of hand-washing wouldn't hurt either.
But then, that wouldn't make for a very interesting story.
The author is city editor at The Reporter and can be reached at