It is now 90 years since the Spanish Flu  hit a world still caught in the wake of the First World War. We can only hope that we do not see a pandemic of similar scale. In 1918-19 conservative estimates would put 20 million people dead out of population of 2 billion. The general consensus is that the Flu killed more than the years of war that preceded it and the grand total may have reached 100 million.
Luckily, the odds are in our favour. Despite talk that we are “due” a pandemic there is no reason to assume this will get much worse.
At the time of writing around 100 people have died in Mexico and the infection has finally hit European shores. Unfortunately, as I am sure many expected the reaction to this has not improved the media’s reputation for balanced reporting. My post title is not meant to be flippant, only a prediction of an upcoming Sun headline.
Despite the imminent meeting of the World Health Organisation involving nothing more than moving a dial from 3 up to a maximum of 6 it has still garnered plenty of coverage. The normally balanced Huffington Post has a splendid “World versus Swine Flu” headline guaranteed to panic. And the bastions of calm at BBC News 24 asked a bemused scientist if this virus will mutate too quickly for any effective defence to be mounted (no link for this). In case you haven’t guessed, it won’t.
However, some hope remains to avoid media sensationalism. This has not descended into panic mongering yet. The job of our media at the moment is to keep us informed of the very limited spread of the disease so far.
A worse case scenario would present a real challenge for the Media, especially the 24 hour news channels. If the worst does occur and the world descends to the seriousness of 1918, or even a fraction of this, they will have a huge task ahead of them. They will need to inform, to direct and to keep people calm. I hope they are up to it.
++UPDATE++Unfortunately, it appears I might have been a bit prematurely glib, we are now on a 5 WHO warning level and Ben Goldacre has just informed me that even if the media do keep shouting wolf it doesn’t mean that one day there wont be a pig. Swine Flu looks like it’s getting serious.++UPDATE++
 Unfortunately for my headline, Mexico is the only Spanish speaking country where a Flu out break has began. Spanish Flu is most likely to have begun in east-Asia.