Just four days after a “60 Minutes” piece noted it had been awhile since Vice President Joe Biden made one of his trademark gaffes, Biden’s foot-in-mouth disease flared up while talking to Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show this morning.

“I would tell members of my family — and I have — that I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Biden said. “It’s not just going into Mexico. If you’re any place in a confined aircraft and one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft.

“That’s me,” he continued. “I would not be at this point, if they had another way of transportation, [be] suggesting they ride the subway.”

Et tu, Amtrak Joe?

An msnbc.com story quotes American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith’s response: “To suggest that people not fly at this stage of things is a broad brush stroke bordering on fearmongering.”

Fearmongering might be a strong word to use in this instance because I don’t think Biden meant to stoke people’s fears. But the vice president’s comment was definitely irresponsible. Sick people need to use caution, and healthy people need to use caution around sick people, but that’s really always the case, isn’t it? There is no evidence that riding an airplane or the subway significantly increases your chances of contracting the swine flu — other than the normal increased chance that comes along with being around other people. Studies are ongoing to determine how this strain of swine flu is transmitted, but if it is like other strains of flu, the swine flu is transmitted via infected droplets of body fluids discharged by coughing or sneezing and is NOT an airborne virus. You can’t catch swine flu by simply being in the same airplane or subway car as an infected person.

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