Amanda Jacobs: Horses and swine at the Kentucky Derby

Amanda Jacobs

I spent my Saturday at the Kentucky Derby.

No, I did not wear a big, fancy hat; my friends and I sat in the infield, where more casual attire is appropriate. And no, I did not drink any mint juleps; I think they’re gross.

I did, however, win some money by betting on the third-place finisher, Musket Man. He won the Illinois Derby, so I figured that was a good sign.

Although horses were the main attraction at Churchill Downs, another animal was also on my mind: the swine.

As I traveled around infield to place my bets and buy overpriced food and beverages, I saw some people wearing pig ears and homemade swine flu T-shirts.

At least three guys were wearing surgical masks. It may have been a legitimate precautionary measure, but I have a feeling they were kidding, since one of them was singing — to the tune of the soccer song “Ole Ole” — “Swine flu, swine flu swine flu swine flu! Yes, you! Swine flu!”

Everyone around me laughed at these jokesters, and so did I. After all, I’ve been trying to keep a level head about the whole H1N1 outbreak.

Yes, it is alarming to see something spreading around the world so quickly, and we’re more susceptible to viruses like this one that we’ve never been exposed to before.

But other diseases — including the regular, old-fashioned flu — kill thousands of people in the U.S. and around the world every year. And the latest estimates indicate that H1N1 has sickened only about 1,000 people on the entire planet.

So isn’t this whole swine flu thing getting blown out of proportion? It’s nothing to worry about, right?

That’s what I told myself.

But during my drive down to Louisville, I started pondering the implications of hanging out in relatively close quarters with thousands of people. If someone decided to spend the day at the Derby to take his mind off his case of swine flu, the disease could spread very easily.

And Kentucky has had one confirmed case of the H1N1 virus, while Illinois has had three. To make matters worse, Indiana, where I stopped to eat on the way to and from Louisville, has also seen three cases of swine flu.

So although I laughed at the jokes (and I still can’t get the swine flu song out of my head), I couldn’t help being concerned about catching the virus. I tensed up every time someone near me coughed or sneezed, and I kept my hand sanitizer close by at all times.

Now that I’ve made it back home, however, I’ll admit that I feel a little silly. Yes, the H1N1 outbreak is a serious global health problem, but the chances of my getting the virus are pretty small.

And yes, I was around a lot of people this weekend, but the number of people in the U.S. who have been infected with swine flu is small compared with the number of people who were at the Kentucky Derby, the number of people in the country and the number of people in the world.

And worrying about swine flu is not going to do anyone any good. If you end up catching the virus, you’ll catch it whether you’re concerned about it or not.

As a chronic worrier, I can tell you from experience that worrying accomplishes nothing.

Yes, we should be vigilant and prepared, but we shouldn’t be overly preoccupied with H1N1. We have more important things to think about, like how the Derby would have turned out if I Want Revenge had not been scratched.

Now, let’s see if I can follow my own advice and stop being concerned about swine flu. I’ll do my best ... but I suppose it couldn’t hurt to keep my hand sanitizer around.

Contact Amanda Jacobs at ajacobs@pekintimes.com.