Kiwi Polemicist

July 8, 2009

• Junk Journalism: Clinics struggle to cope with swine flu rush

Filed under: Health, Media (newspapers etc) — Tags: , , , , — Kiwi Polemicist @ 1:25 pm

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The NZ Herald has an article titled “Clinics struggle to cope with swine flu rush”, which begins thus:

Accident and medical centres in Auckland are struggling to cope with a rising flood of swine-flu cases.

This is junk journalism because it is not proven that all the extra patients in clinics are swine flu cases: very few people are now being tested for swine flu, so basically no one knows how many influenza cases are cases of swine flu. It could just be that a lot more people with common (seasonal) flu are going to the doctor because they’re worried about swine flu and/or more aware of flu in general due to all the publicity about swine flu.

In the interests of balance, here’s a quote from MacDoctor:

Currently the background level of flu in the community is more than double last year’s (although this is within the normal range for levels of flu at this time of year). This probably indicates that a significant proportion of community flu is actually swine flu.

Again, there is little empirical evidence to support this opinion (as far as I’m aware: that’s probably why he says “probably”), but there is such a thing as medical instinct based on experience (good old “gut feeling”) and I do not intend to criticise him. Again, it could just be that this year a far higher proportion of people with flu are bringing official attention to their flu than have done in previous years.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, the media should refrain from making unsubstantiated and sensationalist comments unless it’s clearly an opinion piece.

Did you hear about the guy who thought he had swine flu and rang the government’s help line?

All he got was crackling.

Related posts:

Swine flu: NZ Herald says it’s mutating but it’s not

Swine flu: airlines collecting more personal information

Swine flu stupidity

My experience of swine flu precautions

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