The geography of science - Swine flu: an over-reaction?
Key questions and ideas
- What is the distribution of the swine flu pandemic?
- How have the media portrayed the pandemic?
- Swine flu has resulted in far fewer worldwide deaths than other diseases
What is the distribution of the swine flu pandemic?
Swine flu is a topical example of a flashpoint. That is to say, it is a major world event that has impact on a large number of people across the globe. This lesson explores the distribution of the swine flu pandemic and questions whether some media portrayals of the pandemic have been exagerated and biased. It also considers the impact of swine flu in the UK.
The distribution of the swine flu pandemic, at the time of writing, was concentrated in North America, Central America (notably Mexico), South America, UK, Australia and New Zealand. There were also notable, but fewer, numbers affected in Asia (including Thailand, China and the Philippines). The BBC website is a good source of information for the latest facts and figures on the pandemic.
How have the media portrayed the pandemic?
News reports in the UK, especially during the initial stages of the swine flu outbreak predicted huge death tolls in the UK due to swine flu (see this Metro article Swine flu could kill up to 120 million). This arguably resulted in unnecessary panic about the disease and its potential threat on the population. As a result doctors' surgeries and NHS Direct services were inundated and could barely cope with the influx of cases and queries. In addition, work places saw surges in sick days as people feared they may have swine flu. The media is certainly an important source of information. Newspapers, television reports, internet sources as well as on-line chat rooms and forums have all had a part to play in spreading information about swine flu.
Worldwide deaths from swine flu
In reality, in the UK, as of the 30 July 2009, 11,159 people had been affected by swine flu and 30 people had died. When these figures, or indeed the world affected figures (340,000 laboratory confirmed cases worldwide as of 27 September 2009) are compared with other major world diseases such as seasonal flu, malaria, TB or even deaths due to road traffic accidents, the numbers remain (at the time of writing) to be relatively low. This is not to say that swine flu is not a significant health emergency. Swine flu continues to impact many people worldwide and has the potential to kill many people. However a realistic perspective is required. By examining bias, students are able to formulate their own opinions and gain a balanced perspective. There are cross-curricular links here with the KS3 English curriculum.
What is the worldwide distribution of the Swine Flu pandemic?
Go to Google Maps and type 2009 H1N1 Flu Outbreak Map. Using Google Maps, write a description of the worldwide distribution of the swine flu pandemic. Alternatively answer the following questions:
- Which three countries have been most affected by swine flu?
- Which regions have been most affected by swine flu?
- Which regions have been least affected by swine flu?
- Does anything surprise you about the distribution of swine flu?
Swine Flu: balanced reporting?
The general public in the UK learnt and gained further information about swine flu and its spread mainly through the media via television, newspapers and the internet. Some might argue that the general public reacted with alarm and panic due to the way the media has portrayed the pandemic.
This activity explores how the swine flu pandemic has been reported by the media. There are three activities in this section. You may need more than one lesson to complete these tasks.
You have access to four news reports (two written and two videos).
In pairs or groups pick one or two reports and examine how they are written. Consider whether the phrases, pictures and information used in these reports is likely to cause public panic. Are some reports more likely to cause public panic than others?
Once you have read/watched your chosen report(s), fill in the table on the resource sheet entitled Swine Flu through the media.
But how serious is/was Swine flu?
Having read/seen the news reports, it might seem that swine flu is/was an impeding catastrophe. But how serious is/was it? Look at the resource sheets entitled Swine Flu in Perspective and Swine flu - it is all in the balance and write a short news article to achieve a more balanced perspective on the Swine Flu pandemic.
For the final part of this lesson, look at the following statements and try to create a more balanced response:
- The sudden rise in Swine flu may trigger a pandemic that could wipe out 120 million people, an expert warned (The Metro, 22 April, 2009)
- Swine flu could kill 65,000 in the UK, warns chief medical officer (The Guardian, 16 July, 2009)