Over the last few weeks, I've received a number of calls from tourists planning to come to our region for vacation but fearful of contracting the H1N1 virus, previously known as Swine Flu.
Although the outbreak has now been classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization due to the number of countries involved as well as other epidemiological factors, the virus is still no more virulent than seasonal influenza. This may change, of course, as the virus mutates and develops in the months prior to flu season, but for now there are no travel restrictions or advisories for any region of the United States.
Still, the calls keep coming, and the nervous visitors fret that they may wind up acutely ill and hospitalized when visiting our sleepy college town.
When these calls come in, my consistent response has been the same: H1N1 is relatively mild at this time, cases are coming to light slowly and steadily, and the number of severely ill patients is small. While there have been several deaths, we must bear in mind that seasonal influenza kills approximately 36,000 American per year, something that can help us all keep the current outbreak in perspective. I also remind the erstwhile travelers that flying on a commercial airplane---with its recycled air and passengers coughing and sneezing---is probably much more risky than a visit to our town could ever be.
Now, my tune may change if H1N1 evolves, mutates and becomes more virulent in the autumn, a potential outcome that may indeed come to pass. Realistically, there are germs and bacteria and viruses everywhere, and I see no reason to live in fear. But for those for whom fear is the paramount factor in the equation, perhaps they should just stay home.