Camp Modin, in Belgrade, has earned national accolades for “doing things right” against the swine flu. Twenty percent of its campers and staff came down with the flu, a staggering figure that, oddly enough, saw the feared virus turn into an everyday nuisance.

Last week, Time Magazine said if swine flu, nationally, is handled in the Camp Modin model, the outlook for outbreak in the United States is promising. The virus can be controlled and treated through medication and quarantine, without serious, long-lasting effects.

Stories like Camp Modin are reassuring. Swine flu is intimidating, particularly when the National Guard in Maine is holding a mock drill to prepare for possible vaccine riots, if everything goes wrong, and health officials are holding a preparedness seminar today, Aug. 20 in Augusta. (These are not so reassuring.)

What’s most telling about Camp Modin, though, is a good story to tell, especially against a backdrop of ominous official statements regarding swine flu that offer little more than statistics and precautions.

The first swine flu-related death in Maine was last week, for example, a fifty-ish man hailing from York County, which spurred renewed calls for the standard precautions, like covering noses and mouths when sneezing, or staying home if sick.

This is good medicine. Yet it can be diluted by population and distance; York County has 991 square miles and 190,000 people. Telling everyone from Parsonsfield to Kennebunk that their neighbor died from swine flu seems like just enough information to raise fears, but not provide insight.

Contrast this to Camp Modin, a focused example of how swine flu, when addressed in close quarters, can not only be handled, but turned plain vanilla ordinary. Time said the campers there made the swine flu a regular reality of camp, just “like bug bites and sunburn.”

Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

When health care reform fades from the headlines, the next misinformation gap will likely be regarding swine flu. There are already concerns circulating about whether the new H1N1 vaccine now undergoing clinical trials will be safe. People, especially parents of school-age children, will need to be informed about the vaccine by sources they trust.

More transparent, accurate and detailed information from health officials about swine flu should help do this. This is a challenge, given the importance of privacy around people’s health. Yet it still seems the less the public knows, or is told, about the swine flu in Maine, the more it sounds like we’re helpless against it. 

Yet the more that’s known about it, such as with Camp Modin, makes it reassuringly clear we’re anything but.

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