WORLDPOST

Swine Flu Stirs Hate

05/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It was only a matter of time before the hate mongers would start to blame illegal immigrants for the swine flu and stir up anti-Mexican sentiment.

"Make no mistake about it: Illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico," Michael Savage stated in his April 24 nationally syndicated show. "If we lived in saner times, the borders would be closed immediately."

And his bigotry becomes more sinister.

"[C]ould this be a terrorist attack through Mexico? Could our dear friends in the radical Islamic countries have concocted this virus and planted it in Mexico knowing that you, [Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano, would do nothing to stop the flow of human traffic from Mexico?"

This is completely absurd but so is what other commentators are spewing.

During the April 27 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Neal Boortz, said, "So if you want to get that epidemic into this country, get it going real good and hot south of the border. And, you know, then just spread a rumor that there's construction jobs available somewhere, and here it comes. Because we're not gonna do anything to stop them from coming across the border."

And they won't stop at xenophobia either.

In an April 25 blog post, syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin, wrote, "9/11 didn't convince the open-borders zealots to put down their race cards and confront reality. Maybe the threat of their sons or daughters contracting a deadly virus spread from south of the border to their Manhattan prep schools will."

Luckily, Media Matters, a nonprofit dedicated to monitoring misinformation in the U.S. media is keeping tabs on these right-wing racists.

But we have to debunk the hate. First of all, there's no evidence illegal immigrants are bringing the swine flu into the United States and other countries. It appears it may be carried by American and European tourists who have visited Mexico.

But the hysteria over the swine flu has to stop. Let's just put it in perspective with some simple facts.

There have been 159 deaths in Mexico. Only seven have been confirmed as swine flu and the rest are suspected, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control. But the population in Mexico is over 100 million. So can we really call this a pandemic?

I don't think that's cause enough for us to close the borders or boycott Mexico.

There also is, tragically, one confirmed death in the United States, a 23-month-old Texas child.

More important to note there are an estimated 36,000 people who die from flu related causes each year in the United States, according to the CDC.

That's the REGULAR flu. Since January, 13,000 people have died of complications from the seasonal flu, according to the CDC.

The regular flu looks to be far more deadly that the swine flu. Let's just keep those numbers in perspective.

Yes, we do need to take some precautions and it's a good thing the Obama Administration is making plans for a new vaccine.

But as Obama said, "This is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it is not a cause for alarm."

This means the television networks should also dial it back and stop making people so afraid.

They need to put the actual numbers into perspective -- swine flu vs. regular flu. So far you're more likely to die from the regular flu.

But if it makes you feel better, go ahead and wash your hands more often and use hand sanitizer. But I don't think we all need to start wearing masks or pulling the kids out of school.

Let's not bash Mexico or view Mexicans or brown people in the United States with suspicion.

We have to stand up to the people fomenting all the fear and hysteria.

Teresa Puente teaches journalism at Columbia College Chicago and is the editor and publisher of Latina Voices.