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EDITORIAL - The dreaded flu: No need to panic, but a need to be concerned

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Health scares in America have become so routine that, once the initial alarm passes, there's a danger that complacency can set in. After headlines about swine flu hitting Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State University, and an estimate by presidential advisers that as many as 90,000 could die in a worst-case scenario, anxiety levels may have risen, but there's still no cause for alarm -- or complacency.

That's basically the message from Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said of the 90,000 figure: "Everything we've seen in the U.S., and everything we've seen around the world, suggests we won't see that kind of number if the virus doesn't change."

As more Americans pick up the virus with mild results, the danger will seem less a cause for panic, but that doesn't mean the threat isn't real. Even in a normal flu season, 35,000 to 40,000 deaths occur across the nation, mostly among the elderly. Since the H1N1 flu has the potential to be worse, the precautions are only prudent.

A vaccine is being developed, but only 45 million doses will be ready by Oct. 15, some 75 million doses short of ideal. In the meantime, all that can be done is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Schools and businesses can make plans and individuals can help by washing their hands frequently with soap and water and covering their noses with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

In the zone between overreacting and underreacting, America can beat this challenge.


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