Is The U.S. Having a Panic Attack?

Is The U.S. Having a Panic Attack?

Panic: a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior. Repeat: wildly UNTHINKING behavior. Did we act like this in 2009? Do you even remember what happened in 2009?  H1N1

In 2009 the United States was faced with an outbreak of a strain of influenza, H1N1, often referred to as the swine flu. The outbreak began the weekend of April 24th when groups of students at a high school in Queens in New York became ill—all at once.


Having just taken a position with the the health department in Des Moines, Iowa, I was immediately called to help prepare for the “pandemic” that was sure to develop. Vaccine had to be prepared to deal with this particular strain of the flu. And to best care for the population, the CDC outlined those who should be vaccinated first: pregnant women, immunocompromised patients and young children. Some people not on that list did panic.


From April through the coming flu season (September 2009 through February 2010), the health department’s focus was H1N1. A special facility was set up to increase the number of clients who could be vaccinated per day. I spent days on the phone answering questions about H1N1, quieting panicked callers and providing dates and times for vaccination. By September 3rd, which was week 35 of the pandemic, H1N1 was widespread in the U.S. specifically affecting 11 states and regional activity in 13. The number of people seeking medical help was above the national baseline. 97% of the viruses being reported to CDC were 2009 influenza A (H1N1) viruses.

Facts: H1N1 infected 60.8 million people in the U.S. resulting in 12,469 fatalities. By August 2009, the Pew Research Center found that 45 percent of Americans were worried that they or a family member would contract the disease, women more concerned than men.


H1N1: Again, 60.8 million people in the U.S. were infected with H1N1 – a virus that can survive in the air and be passed through the air in droplet form—thus being highly infectious. Vaccinations reduced the number of people exposed. See HERD IMMUNITY here.

During the H1N1 pandemic, PEW research revealed the following stats: Confidence in the government’s ability to deal with the flu: very confident 18%; somewhat confident 47%. Pew stated: There is virtually no difference in opinion by gender, age or income when it comes to confidence in government, but Democrats are notably more likely to say they are confident in the government’s ability to handle swine flu (76%) than are independents (64%) or Republicans (54%).

Ebola: a virus that is not air-borne, that is passed from direct contact with a symptomatic person’s body fluids—vomit, blood, watery feces. Two nurses who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, patient zero in Dallas Texas, have tested positive for Ebola and treated. Two doctors, an aid worker and a cameraman who worked for Doctors Without Borders in Africa, tested positive for Ebola. They were flown home and treated in the U.S. All are alive. These people got Ebola because they were working directly with very sick patients who were passing copious amounts of infected body fluids.


Now consider this from Danielle Kroll MD: An elementary school teacher in Maine was placed on a 21-day medical leave recently, the incubation period of Ebola, after visiting Dallas to attend a conference that was 10 miles from the hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person in the U.S. to test positive passed away. Fear of Ebola is distilled in nearly 80 percent of Americans, in a recent poll.

The above is an example of sheer, unthinking behavior–or complete panic. Ebola is not passed through the air. And even if it were, the teacher was 10 miles from the hospital were Thomas Eric Duncan was in isolation. If the elementary teacher was a very close friend of one of the nurses who cared for Duncan and had hugged and touched her right after she removed her PPE (personal protective equipment) coverings in the hospital–you might have cause for concern. Maybe monitoring her for a fever, but certainly not putting her on a medical leave for 21 days. Insane. And this is only one example. So keep in mind: When the perception of risk increases, the feeling of risk increases. 


In May of 2009, researchers from the University of Michigan wanted to see if they could increase the fear of the public for H1N1. The experiment was simple, but mischeivious. Undercover researchers on the Michigan campus approached people, asking them to complete a questionnaire on public health. 50% of the time, the experimenter sneezed in front of the unsuspecting participants. When they evaluated the questionnaires they discovered that the sneeze powerfully manipulated responses. It increased fear in the participant about all things health-related. The researchers concluded: “Those who had just passed a sneezing confederate [i.e., undercover researcher], perceived the average American as more likely to contract a serious disease, to have a heart attack before 50, and to die from a crime or accident.” Those who experienced the sneeze were more negative about the country’s health care system, and more in favor of spending federal dollars on flu prevention. Later, when the sneeze was revealed to the participants they stated they were not aware that they were being manipulated.


And keep in mind that there are always people who will take advantage of fear. Someone might even try to sell you expensive PPE stuff to wear to protect yourself. During 2009, lists of scripts were written for Tamiflu pills from India. Right now someone is trying to make hay from your fears.


Politicians, media folks, people with an agenda line up in a crisis and use your fear to manipulate you–just like the Michigan study above proved. The best way to stay healthy in body is to practice good hygiene and be alert. The best way to stay healthy mentally is to read the science and believe in it. Let the stats underline it. Don’t be fooled. Stay calm, avoid a panic attack and be well.

Some places to read about the science of Ebola and get the TRUE information:

Is The U.S. Having a Panic Attack?

Research. Read. Study. A Current List of Ebola Cases here.

Keep calm, it’s not ebola, but it could be

the flu. Avoid the worry and get your flu shot.


9 thoughts on “Is The U.S. Having a Panic Attack?

  1. GREAT post! Much needed. The 24-hour news cycle has a lot to answer for. They stir up panic to get viewers. I’m furious at them all. But not as furious as that poor nurse who got treated like a criminal for volunteering to fight the disease in West Africa. Or the school teacher from Maine. I hadn’t even heard that one.

    Very interesting about the sneeze study.

    • Thanks Anne. What really fries me are politicians who are using this to create fear before the Mid-Term elections. Power and greed–many of them don’t care a bit about the people they are supposed to represent. It’s a system that no longer works. The CDC has its hands full and will take a few missteps, but bottom line, they will save lives. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Thanks for a great post – I get so frustrated at sensationalistic media and panic stricken public, we ignore real health threats but focus on things like ebola…ugghh

    • Thanks, Laurie. It’s weird how people believe some aspects of what health and science tells them (like how many people now use Viagra) but in other areas their individual prejudice and fear blocks sensible decision making. Take care, Beth

  3. Right on the money, this post. The fear that is triggered regarding health issues becomes personal, because everyone thinks that they are going to get ill. In our own ignorance, we miss the real truth about the dangers that exist, which becomes panic.

    I hope this message reaches the masses so they can go about life believing in health, not in thinking they are going to die from some mystical virus.

    • Thanks Bill. It’s always about education and knowing your risks. Right now where we live, there are no reported cases. If there were, only people exposed to someone who is dripping fluids would have to be concerned. We need to stay calm and follow the science. Beth

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