Saturday, May 16, 2009

Swine Flu: Beware Hastily-Called Press Conferences

I don't blame the mayor of New York City for wanting to get a statement out as soon as possible. On the other hand, what happened to New York City's Mr. Bloomberg shows how it's a good idea to do a little research, then start talking.

"...At a hastily called news conference on Thursday night, Mr. Bloomberg said that Mr. Wiener appeared to have had some health problems that could have made him more susceptible to the virus, and colleagues and friends of the educator said said he had diabetes and sometimes walked with a cane.

"But on Friday morning, the younger Mr. Wiener told The A.P. that his father's only pre-existing condition was 'gout, which is unrelated to complications he’s experienced now.'..." (The New York Times)

New York City now has six closed schools, and cleanup crews washing them down. The Mr. Wiener who New York's mayor was talking about is an assistant principle, Mitch Wiener.

Wiener's son, Adam, "...said his father is now suffering from kidney failure, pneumonia, dehydration and a lung infection." Which isn't gout. Doesn't have much to do with gout, either: although all of the above are disorders that people can suffer from.

"...'I don't know where people got that,' Adam Wiener, 23, said Friday morning as he prepared to return to the hospital where his mother and one brother were holding a vigil.

"Adam Wiener said his father had been sick since at least last weekend with flu-like symptoms 'but we didn't think anything of it.' Then early Wednesday, he said, the family called 911 after his father began 'hallucinating and wasn't coherent.'..." (FOXNews (May 15, 2009))

If the elder Wiener's gout interfered with his walking enough to warrant a using a cane now and again, I think I can see where the confusion may have started. I've used a cane since the mid-seventies, something that most people don't seem to notice.

Once or twice, though, I've had an interesting look at how others perceive the world. Like the time a couple of college students assumed I was blind. Think about it: Blind people use canes; This fellow uses a cane; Therefore, this fellow must be blind. Sure: the cane used by some people to pinch-hit for eyesight is a standardized white color, and my walking prop is plain wood; but not everyone knows that.

In the case of Mr. Wiener, if he'd ever been seen using a cane, it might be "obvious" that he had diabetes - to someone for whom that was what canes were associated with.

Any Illness I Don't Have is Minor

I think that Mr. Wiener's experience is an important reminder. Influenza A(H1N1), swine flu, or whatever this year's new disease is called, may be no more serious than influenza. But, influenza can be a serious disease.

And, I think that mayors, and even CDC and WHO officials, may not know everything there is to know about influenza A(H1N1).

Happily, the health agency officials seem to be aware of that: judging from the very cautious statements they've made.

In the news: List of posts relating to Swine flu 2009; and list of background resources:


Anonymous said...

I work at 238 and was at the meeting last week (May 6)when Mr. Wiener asked the UFT (Board of Health and DEO reps were also in the building at that time) to close the school. They almost snickered at the very thought - as if he couldn't possibly be serious. They said he would cause a "panic." At that time we already had over 6 students leave with flu-like symptoms. At the Mayor's press conference one of the mayor's aides throw our Principal under the bus and said he - Principal Gates - had decided to stay open. A principal DOES NOT HAVE THAT POWER! Please let everybody know the truth. Everybody should hear 3 words - election, nomination, lawsuit. That's what the mayor is worried about - not my friend dying in a hospital.
Thank you.

Brian H. Gill said...


I don't have detailed knowledge of how the New York City school system works: so I can't 'let everybody know the truth.'

There does seem to be a wide variety of opinion among people, about whether or not this particular strain of influenza is a serious problem.

But, as I pointed out in an earlier post, even Reuters noted that Americans were anxious - but not panicky - about influenza A(H1N1).

I think that too many people with specialized training assume that commoners are like the ignorant villagers in some of the stories.

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