Safety -- or Swine Flu Follies?

Swine Flu FolliesABC News
From diverting planes, to slaughtering pigs, and illogical measures at the border, the week since swine flu's first appearance has led to some drastic and questionable measures.

One woman's sniffle diverted an international flight Friday, several students' travel plans cost them their graduation ceremony Saturday and thousands of students in Dallas have had to put off their proms because of the threat of the swine flu virus.

But when Paula Martin heard last week that her two boys were sent home from school because they recently returned from a vacation in Mexico, the Boulder, Colo., mom put her foot down.

"My kids are not ill and deserve to be in class," Martin told the Boulder Daily Camera. "I said, 'This is nuts. ... My kids have a legal right to have access to public education."

Just hours after Martin's call to complain, she got an apology, and her children were let back into school, according to Briggs Gamblin, communications director for the Boulder Valley School District.

The school district now has a comprehensive guide developed in consultation with public health experts on swine flu suspicions in school: Monitor your health if you've been traveling in a high-risk area, and quarantine your family if you show symptoms, especially a fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

"There's been an apology," said Gamblin. "It was an overreaction and it was made with the best of intentions."

Over about a week, the world saw some examples of possible knee-jerk reactions to reports about swine flu. People have upset their annual school exams, vacations and more over a virus that a recent Harvard School of Public Health Poll shows the public doesn't completely understand.

The Harvard poll showed 83 percent correctly said you can get swine flu from close contact with someone else who has it. But 34 percent of people incorrectly thought you could get the flu by coming in contact with pigs, 29 percent incorrectly thought you could get the flu from an infected person who's more than 30 feet away and 13 percent incorrectly thought you could get it from eating pork.

The Web site for elementary schools, individuals and doctors who suspect swine flu lurking about.

But among the estimated 46 percent of Americans who are concerned about getting the swine flu, some have gone farther than others in their caution.

The following is a list of some questionable swine flu reactions so far.

Swine Flu Sniffles Divert an International Flight

A woman's flu-like symptoms diverted an international flight from Germany to Washington, D.C., early Friday afternoon, according to reports by the Associated Press.

United Airlines Flight 903, with 245 passengers, changed course from Washington Dulles International Airport and landed at Boston's Logan Airport to let off the 53-year-old passenger.

United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said the pilot landed in Boston on the advice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However the CDC's own guidelines just recommend contacting "the nearest U.S. Quarantine Station and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at the destination airport," not diverting a flight -- and the CDC lists a quarantine station near Washington.

After an ambulance and police escorted the woman off the runway, the plane continued the hour-long flight to Washington, D.C.

"I think the hour would not have made a big difference, but that's a judgment call," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

"Let's say all of a sudden the patient developed a fever and started having chills and feeling really sick … we might conclude in retrospect that it's an abundance of caution, but we have to leave that to the flight crew," he said.

Swine Flu Disrupts College Graduation

A group of education students from Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pa., thought their trip to Mexico would help them toward graduation day, not bar them from it.

But after the 22 students and two faculty members returned from their "teaching experience" trip to Mexico City Tuesday, they heard disappointing news from the administration.

"We were getting lots of calls from people asking how could we possibly allow [the returning] people to participate in graduation," said Rita Abent, executive director of public relations at Slippery Rock University.

Abent said parents were concerned about the possibility of infecting young children or those with weakened immune systems.

However, the students did not show flu symptoms.

"We were following the CDC guidelines where if you've been in an area where you could have been exposed [it's recommended] to do some self-social distancing," said Abent.

However, experts in preventive medicine say the quarantined graduation was above and beyond standard public health recommendations.

"That kind of, shall we say over abundance of caution, is not recommended by the CDC or any other group at the present time," said Schaffner.

But as he watched the ceremony on TV this weekend, Schaffner said that the Slippery Rock community seemed to have accepted the choice and had a good time anyways.

Indeed, Abent said some of the students and public health experts were on board with the decision.

"They have made an incredible sacrifice to take themselves out of the commencement ceremony so they do not expose their fellow classmates and 6,000 guests expecting to come," said Abent.

Strict Measures to Prevent Swine Flu Anger Some, Completely Pass by Others

Abent admitted not all the students were happy to oblige the university's decision.

"Initially, when they heard the news, the greatest response was disappointment," Abent said. "Do we have a couple of people who are still very angry? Yes, absolutely."

"No one would say, 'Jeez, this is a great thing,'" Abent said -- but she added that she thought most students' reaction was to make the best of the odd situation.

Abent said the students barred from the full graduation ceremony will have their own separate ceremony, which will be videotaped and played during the time they were supposed to graduate.

Surely the Slippery Rock decision could be debated either way in terms of caution, but some behavior on the borders of the U.S. and Mexico seems downright counterproductive.

U.S. Border Now a Virus Force Field?

The U.S. State Department's travel advisory for Americans may make a lot of sense for a person flying from Missoula to Mexico City.

But take the estimated 1 million people who cross the U.S.-Mexican line at border towns like El Paso-Juarez every day, and some public health measures might begin to sound a little silly.

Pedestrians stand in line at the United States-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, April 27, 2009, while wearing surgical masks.

A tourist from New York at the Tijuana-San Diego border where thousands cross daily, told Agence France Presse that he debated whether to cross into Mexico.

"I'm from New York, came to California for holidays and I wanted to cross to Mexico. But 10 minutes ago, I received a call from my cousin trying to alert me not to cross," the man told AFP. "I'm not sure now. I don't know what the flu is. But in any case, I can go and come back."

Borders saw roughly half the traffic they normally did, according to reports by Reuters, AFP and the El Paso Times.

But those who did travel across the borders gave reasons that defied the travel advisory in logic and in actions.

"The business owners near the bridges in South El Paso tell me a lot of people from Juarez are coming over to El Paso, although not necessarily to shop," Alonso Flores, operations director at the El Paso Central Business Association told The El Paso Times. "They feel safe here, and they can take off the [medical] masks. They're not allowed to mill around over there, so they're coming here to do that, hang out."

"This describes an interesting behavior that the CDC is worried about," said Schaffner. "Some experts think that by wearing the mask people will do things they otherwise wouldn't that would put them at risk."

Schaffner hopes people still wash their hands, avoid public places if they're sick and keep away from sick people, whether wearing a face mask or not.

Egypt Slaughters Healthy Pigs in the Name of Swine Flu

Egypt officials slaughtered hundreds of thousands of pigs Wednesday in response to the news of a swine flu outbreak, although the country has yet to report a single case of swine flu, according to the Associated Press.

The World Health Organization specified that the swine flu virus cannot be transferred by the consumption of pork, but many abroad and in the United States continue to confuse that point.

Egyptian veterinarians take a mucus sample from a pig in a Cairo slaughterhouse April 30, 2009. Egypt's pig slaughter was a general health measure rather than a precaution against swine flu after the U.N. said there was no evidence the animals were spreading the disease.

Egypt is the only country in the world so far to order a mass pig slaughter in light of the swine flu and quickly fell under criticism for the decision.

Although pork is banned in several predominately Islamic countries, pigs in Egypt largely are owned by the 10 percent Coptic Christian minority population living amid a Muslim majority that does not eat pork for religious reasons.

At one large pig farming center just north of Cairo, scores of angry farmers blocked the street to prevent health ministry workers in trucks and bulldozers from coming in to slaughter the animals, according to the Associated Press. Some pelted the vehicles with rocks, and shattered windshields -- and the workers left without killing any pigs.

Schaffner says the association between pigs and the swine flu (H1N1-09) virus has more to do with a "laboratory anomaly" of the virus and how it developed than anything to do with what's happening between humans and pigs.

"There's no suggestion that there's active transmission from pigs to people at this time," he said.

Magical Surgical Masks? Wet, Sloppy and Still Won't Protect

Newlyweds Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt attempt some sort of display of public affection while honeymooning in Mexico.

MTV reality show stars Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt were seen on their honeymoon trip to Mexico wearing surgical masks on the beach, on the street and in each other's arms.

They might have been trying to set a good example, but their kiss in one picture likely would have rendered the flimsy protection against the flu even less effective.

Germ expert Dr. Elaine Larsen, told ABC News' "Good Morning America" that after a few hours, surgical masks start to get saturated and turn into a sponge-like device keeping germs close to the wearer's mouth.

Wet that sponge with a kiss and, well, one can imagine.

"I think that's really over the top," said Schaffner.

Schaffner said the couple's choice to wear the masks on a beach vacation -- kiss or not -- also goes well beyond public health recommendations.

"The first thing we should recognize is that surgical masks are designed to keep the surgeon's germs out of the wound of the patient," said Schaffner, who explained doctors really don't have a measure of how effective the masks are at keeping germs away from a healthy person.

"That's why the CDC does not recommend their [surgical masks] routine use."

ABC's Sheila Marikar and the Associated Press contributed to this report.