Pigs will fly and we will die

While unlikely, there is always a possibility that the H1N1 (swine flu) and H5N1 (avian flu) strains will combine to form a deadlier virus. (See e.g. BBC: What scientists know about swine flu)

Very few people actually understand what viruses are, how they mutate, and how they make people sick. There seems to be two majors ways of coping with ignorance, and contextualize the information we receive from the official organizations such as the WHO and the media: panic and conspiracy. The internet is a weird place and the blogosphere is even stranger. There is no shortage in wackiness, both in panic and conspiracy theories.

There are those who are in panic mode, best summarized as we’re all doomed! An alliance of hypochondriacs (who are absolutely convined that they have the swine / avian / flying pig flu, but they are also probably going to survive the deadly pandemic if it materializes), pessimists (we’re doomed anyway, whatever happens), and millenarians (it’s God’s punishment and the rule of the saints is imminent) contribute to the current doom-mongering. Perhaps more seriously, as many people cannot intuitively understand or assess fairly the risk, some overestimate the dangers, therefore take preventive measures, and brag about doing so. There is a social psyche in these situations: fear breeds fear, competition (I am better prepared than you are), and keeping up with the Joneses.

Those who see the shadow of their favourite devil – the government, the UN, or whatever institution who is out to get them – will claim that the pandemic is a conspiracy. Some of them believe that this is an elaborate hoax designed to scare people into submission or make the pharmaceutical companies rich. Others believe that this is a way to kill certain people or targeted to attack people of certain nationalities. As another variant, there are those who believe that the flu was accidentally released before even a deadlier strain could be manufactured: the conspirators messed it up.

The flu is dangerous, and the risks should not be minimized, but also not hyped. It’s too early to say whether pigs will be flying and we will be dying at some future point.