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Flu, swine and the bottom line

April 30, 2009

o If you like reading Tim Rowland, you'll love watching him. See what else Tim has to say

Naturally, the swine flu and its potential to become a pandemic event is engrossing enough, but I'm particularly interested in the business side of the equation.

It is reassuring that so many people see this flu not in terms of life or death, but in terms of dollars and cents. On Wall Street, for example, hospital and pharmaceutical stocks shot up on the news that the malady was spreading to other countries.

As long as people are not asking, "How do we cure it?" but are asking instead, "How do we make money off of it?" I feel pretty secure that the situation is normal and all is right with the world. Now, if Wall Street had jumped in and offered to donate $20 million to help find a cure then it truly would have been time to panic.

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Of course, there were losers, too. And no, I am not talking about the people who actually contracted the disease, I'm speaking of the flu's true victims, the airline and hotel industries, which have taken a major hit to their stock.

Remember when we used to ask, "Won't somebody think of the children?" Now, it's, "Won't somebody think of American Airlines Flight 603 from New York to Cancun?"

Speaking of flights, there was a clip on the news that showed lines of airline passengers being scanned with a special camera that could actually tell if a person disembarking from a plane had a fever. Those who did were pulled from the line and quarantined. I'm impressed by the technology, but concerned about the tactic. It just sounds so medieval and arbitrary.

Still, it's fascinating they can detect sickness these days at 40 paces. Next time I get a cough, forget the emergency room, I'm going to the airport. Give the skycaps authority to write prescriptions for antibiotics, and we might never have need to set foot in a hospital again.

Two other businesses, on opposite ends of the poles, have weighed in on the swine flu issue -- the pork industry and PETA. Pork producers strongly object to the term "swine flu," asking it instead be called "hybrid flu." This term, in turn, was objected to by the makers of gas/electric automobiles, who suggested "bicycle flu."

PETA, which exists for reasons to become breathless, immediately suggested swine flu was a good reason to switch from pork products to "delicious veggie dogs and soy sausage."

Seems to me, if we'd eaten all of the pigs, we wouldn't be having this problem in the first place. Count on me to redouble my efforts to address this situation forthwith. I promise to put some real mustard into the task, if you know what I'm saying.

And the global media, bless them, predictably launched into the awkward effort to simultaneously create and quell panic:

Nation braces for the worst. Except it's not that big a deal. Pandemic fears spread around the world. Except it's not truly a pandemic. Everyone needs to be wearing a surgical mask. Except they really don't work.

One group that has remained quietly smug is the AARP. At last, and it's about time, a flu that affects healthy young people and not senior citizens. In fact, if I'm reading this right, seniors hold the key. A Tuesday headline said, "Stopping Outbreak May Be Up To WHO." Roger Daltrey turned 65 on March 1, just in the nick of time.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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