The Swine Flu – Pandemic or Common Cold?

The latest outbreak of an animal flu attacking humans is going around the internet like crazy – and around our office here at Interactive Intelligence.

During my departmental meeting yesterday, I announced to my team that I have a trip scheduled to speak at an event in Mexico City next month. The news was received laughter and humorous remarks like, “Good luck getting there!”, and “If you go, don’t bring that stuff back with you!” The best one came from my boss who said, "Were you planning on visiting a pig farm during the trip? Ah….maybe riding the bucking pig and Jose’s all night karaoke bar?"

All were good humored comments with no ill-intent.

Another colleague of mine who works in Texas commented in an email about his trip here to Indy this week, “I hope I don’t catch (or bring) Swine Flu.”

It struck me odd that my colleagues would worry so much about this swine flu and yet, when they are sick with the “common flu” during the winter, they’ll still drag their butts into work and not worry about getting anyone else sick. Know what I mean?

Look at the symptoms of the swine flu and let me know if you haven’t seen them before – fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sounds like the same old stuff we see here every winter!

Seems like this thing is hitting a lot closer to home than the Asian bird flu a few years ago. Just last night, the local news was telling runners in this weekend’s Mini-Marathon (largest half-marathon in the country at 35,000 participants)  that in order to avoid catching the swine flu from other runners you need to avoid drinking from someone else’s water bottle! (Yuck!) Additionally, I received an email from my children’s elementary school that they are "taking every precaution" to protect our child from getting the swine flu. Where will it end?!

The issue, of course, is that the media coverage is so great right now that it generates a lot of fear and panic. Just look at the news sites of Fox, CNN and MSNBC and you’ll see that their top stories are surrounding the swine flu. In addition, it appears as if Twitter traffic is heightening worries and spreading false rumors about the swine flu: as well.

But if you dig around a little further, you’ll find some more facts that minimize this fear:

  • Even though there are around 149 deaths attributed to the swine flu in Mexico this is still small compared to 36,000 deaths caused each year from flu-related symptoms in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Of the 40 U.S. cases, only one has been hospitalized, and all have recovered.
  • President Obama said Monday that the swine flu outbreak is a "cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert," but is not a "cause for alarm."

So, what’s the point of this blog? Glad you asked.

I am assuming that many of you reading this work within the communications industry – contact centers, VoIP resellers, Unified Communication providers, analysts and consultants. So, I’d like to hear back from you:

  • What are you doing about this? Are you more concerned about the swine flu than you were about the Asian bird flu since it seems to have originated in a neighboring country?
  • We all know that the media can hype news events like this, but what are your thoughts about the social networking sites? Are they good or bad for new events like this?
  • If you work in a contact center (aka petri dish!), do you have precautions you are taking and are they any different than what you would do during flu season?
  • As an analyst, sales person or anyone else who travels, are you avoiding international airports or travel around Mexico’s bordering states?

Oh, and in case I work with you and you were wondering, I cancelled my trip to Mexico City yesterday.

Tim Passios