May 18, 2009 12:00 PM

>• Philip Alcabes, a professor of public health and the author of Dread, offers insights into how fear and fantasy fuel outbreaks like this year’s swine flu:

“OVERIMAGINING” RUNS WILD Swine flu’s obviously real, but people project what will happen a week from now, a month from now.

COMPARISONS CAUSE PANIC This isn’t 1918, when flu killed millions. We have better science. Also, flu has taken many forms since then; why assume a reprise of [the worst]?

PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THE STATS 99.5 percent of the U.S. population survived the 1918 flu.

FEAR BREEDS ILLOGIC In the SARS epidemic, patronage of Chinese restaurants fell. It’s not in lo mein! Bottom line: There’s no risk-free life, but public health systems work. Trust them.

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