Top 10 Widespread PANICS In The World
Sunny • onDid You Know 10 years ago • 9 min read

Top 10 Widespread PANICS In The World

SWINE FLU It, it's all right to take a deep breath and calm down a bit about swine flu. Despite the hyperventilating media reports of recent weeks odds are pretty good you're not going to be felled by the nasty but generally non-fatal H1N1 virus. This may come as a shock to, say, Egypt, which ordered all of its pigs slaughtered in a misguided attempt to stop the spread of the flu (which, reports indicate, is not transmitted from pig to person).

Infections are falling in Mexico, the country hardest-hit by the flu bug, and the World Health Organization said the virus has not yet created a sustained outbreak in Europe. Though new cases are popping up around the globe each day, it appears that a widespread global pandemic isn't forthcoming. Just like SARS and the avian flu before it, H1N1 probably will cause more damage through anxiety than actual infection

SALMONELLA If there's one panic that reoccurs like clockwork, it's salmonella in the food supply. Picking any one outbreak almost seems unfair — just this year companies pulled tainted peanut butter from store shelves due to salmonella fears. But it might be tough to outdo the 2008 outbreak in terms of sheer ridiculousness.

After more than a thousand were sickened by one of the worst outbreaks of salmonella in the U.S. in years, authorities pulled several varieties of tomatoes from the food supply. Electing to be overcautious, some restaurants pulled tomatoes off the menu entirely. Across the land, salad bars and Taco Bells were bleak, lycopene-free wastelands. And it very likely was all for naught. In the end, authorities said the outbreak could just as well have come from jalapeno peppers o

WAR Of The WORLDS Call it the first widespread scare of the wireless era. By 1938, the radio was ubiquitous and the radio drama was in its heyday, and no one took greater advantage than broadcaster Orson Welles. On Oct. 31, radio audiences who believed they were tuning into a concert were instead treated to Welles' dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. The concert was interrupted frequently by Welles masquerading as a news announcer, giving frenzied updates of a Martian invasion of Earth. Though he mentioned at several points during the broadcast that it was merely a dramatization, thousands of listeners panicked — stockpiling supplies and barricading their homes against aliens who existed on the airwaves alone.

Not learning the lesson of the U.S. panic, an Ecuadorian radio station tried a similar stunt in 1949. Listeners were not amused and burned its offices to the ground in retaliation

MAD COW DISEASE Mad cow disease is the sinister name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and it's deserved. Though not contagious through person-to-person contact, mad cow disease is terrifying for its deadly effects. The disease, which manifests itself as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, gradually destroys nervous tissue in the brain, resulting in dementia, memory loss, seizures and death. The disease is incurable and always fatal.

Humans can contract the disease by eating brain or spinal tissue from an infected cow, parts of which can be contained in ground beef or some other contaminated cuts if proper safety measures aren't observed. The largest outbreak occurred in Britain beginning in 1984, killing more than 150 people. Infection has been kept down largely by rapid quarantines of infected herds and changes in feeding practices that prevent cows from being fed the ground remains of other cattle — a common way the disease spreads

Tylenol Poisonings When seven people died after ingesting Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide in the Chicago area, the authorities had no way of knowing just how far the September 1982 tampering had spread. Officials took to the streets with megaphones, warning residents to throw out any capsules they may have lying around their home.

Health officials now suspect someone tampered with the pills on the drugstore shelves, though they've never arrested anyone in the case.(In February, the FBI reopened its investigation of tax consultant James Lewis, who had written a letter to Tylenol's manufacturer in October 1982 demanding $1 million to "stop the killings." Lewis has denied responsibility.) The incident set off waves of copycat incidents across the country, in some cases resulting in serious illness or fatalities. Tylenol lost millions recalling pills from around the country and millions more in lost sales. The panic didn't subside until the FDA mandated new tamper-proof safety measures for food and over-the-counter drugs, dramatically improving product safety.

Red Dye No. 2 Even today, artificial dyes are subject to some of the most bizarre fears and nastiest urban legends. Blame Red Dye No. 2. In the 1970s, Soviet scientists claimed a link between the dye — used in everything from sausage casings and ice cream to makeup — and cancer, and U.S. tests proved some correlation as well. Though it was never linked to any deaths or illnesses, the substance was banned from U.S. shelves in 1976. Consumer worries were enough to get the Mars candy company to pull red M&Ms from their lineup of colors, even though they never contained any Red Dye No. 2 to begin with. It would take 10 years for the collective panic to fade — and for the M&M spectrum to be complete.

DDT Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (or DDT, to avoid the mouthful) was supposed to be a magic bullet against insect infestations. The insecticide was so effective, experts talked about finally eradicating illnesses like malaria and improving crop yields safely and cheaply. The chemist who discovered the compound's use as an insecticide even won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. One tiny little problem — no one stopped to check the effect DDT had on the environment all by itself.

As a result, DDT birthed one of the first environmental-related panics. Biologist Rachel Carson penned the seminal book Silent Spring, questioning the widespread use of DDT and outlining its disastrous effects on the environment. Accumulating in the soil and in the food chain, DDT could reach toxic levels among animal populations as far away as the Arctic. Later testing revealed it also had damaging health effects on people, causing confusion, reproductive damage and increased cancer rates. The resulting outcry was enough to cause DDT to be banned in the U.S. in 1972.

Y2K There may not be an original joke left to make about the Y2K pandemonium — that's how ridiculous this global panic ended up being. At the stroke of midnight at the turn of the millennium, our computers were supposed to kill us all. Or something like that.

Chalk it up to shortsightedness: computer programmers had long notated years with only two digits — 97, 98, 99 and so forth — apparently never considering what would happen in the year 2000, when the date would revert back to year 00. Would the machines recognize the new number? Would they freeze up? Would they fundamentally and irrevocably crash, taking us back to the year zero with them? Panicked prognosticators predicted airplanes would fall from the sky, electrical grids would shut down and the planet's entire information infrastructure would grind to a halt. Countries like the U.S. and United Kingdom spent millions to patch and fix the error while others took a wait-and-see approach.

There wasn't much to see. As the clock struck midnight in Asia and Sydney was still standing, the rest of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. As the festivities rolled on, there were few glitches: a row of slot machines went out in Delaware and a few dates appeared wrong on the Web, but that's indicative of the extent of it. The morning of January 1, 2000 dawned to a world now much more concerned about their hangovers than death by computer glitch.

SARS One reason the response to the H1N1 outbreak has been so efficient is the lessons learned from SARS. Properly called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, this nasty little virus hopped from animals to humans in southern China, killing the first man infected with the strain in Nov. 2002. Media-phobic China didn't see the need to worry its population or anyone else about this exotic new virus, so SARS spread largely unchecked in China — until a mainland businessman visited Hong Kong, bringing the virus with him and infecting dozens of others. By the time an American contracted the strain during a Chinese business trip, the virus finally got its turn under the Klieg lights.

As doomsday scenarios played out on cable news and in the press, a worried world stocked up on face masks and bottled water to await the apocalypse. Except SARS didn't oblige. Just over 8,000 people ended up infected with SARS, though it did kill nearly 800 — mostly in China and Hong Kong. By July 2003, there were no more human cases of SARS and the virus is considered contained today. Officials warn that SARS could return; the virus is still circulating with its animal host. Let's hope it's content to stay put.

Lead Toys If there's one place parents want to know is safe, it's the toy aisle. In 2007, Mattel recalled more than nine million toys after they were found to contain lead paint, which can cause impaired brain development in children. Their recalls were followed by even more from other toy companies, each discovering lead tainting their toys. The culprit? Lax safety standards in Chinese manufacturing plants. More than 70 percent of the toys sold in the U.S. are made in China, away from U.S. regulators' prying eyes. Mattel settled for $12 million with 39 state attorney generals over their role in the recall, and the U.S. Congress passed new safety standards designed to keep a close eye on imports.



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