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Swine flu: Is it a real threat or just hype?

Well, its been about a week since the whole swine flu kerfluffle started up.

We’ve learned a lot since then. The current ‘pandemic’ is the H1 N1 strain of influenza. It is about as virulent as most of the ‘normal’ seasonal flus. So far, it is about as deadly as the normal seasonal flu. Oh yeah, and most important: it can be thrashed into a frenzy of ‘public concern’ that is guaranteed to crank up your ratings at the mere mention of ‘swine flu’.

So, should we really be concerned? From what the CDC and WHO have reported so far, this is probably no worse than the annual outbreak of flu that we all endure every year. It is a little out of phase (like 6 months) from the normal flu outbreak, and got a lot of major press because of the early reports out of Mexico (and of course, the ensuing media froth). So, lets take a look at the numbers out of Mexico, with a healthy dose of hindsight.

A whole lot of people got sick. Many of the ones that went to the hospitals died. This is the fact that started the panic. the problem is that the percentage of people in Mexico that got sick, then died is unknown. As in any poor country, most people don’t go to the doctor (and certainly not to the hospital) unless they are really, really sick. Sop, something like a normal case of the flu wouldn’t prompt a trip to the doctor, and certainly not a trip to the hospital. Now, one of the things that we’ve learned about the current outbreak in the past couple of days is that most of the people that get it get normal flu symptoms. That means that most of the people that got it in Mexico never went to the doctor, and were not counted in the number of people that had the swine flu. The CDC and WHO have both stopped using the numbers that Mexico presented because they are too inaccurate. Even the Mexican government has stopped using numbers.

So where do we go for accurate numbers? Well, because the swine flu is spreading about as rapidly as most strains of flu do, it is already global. That means that places like Europe and USA have the swine flu, and they are a lot better at tracking infection rates. What we’ve found is that the ratio of people dying and people just getting sick are about the same as they are for the ‘normal’ flu that goesa round every year.

OK, so the chances of dying if you get sick are about the same as always, but this swine flu stuff is super-contagious, right? Well, actually, no. Of course, it depends on what you compare it to. Compared to, say, gonorrhea, its incredibly contagious – all you have to do is breathe in the wrong place, and you’ll get the swine flu. Gonorrhea requires a bit of intentional activity. Then again, compared to some of the truly nasty hemorrhagic fevers, where being anywhere near an infected person pretty much ensures that you’ll get it, this stuff is tame.

OK, so a  fair comparison: How does it stack up against other influenza viruses? From what we’re seeing so far, its about average. that makes it a fairly easily transmitted virus, but once again, no worse than the normal flu.

OK, so it isn’t any more lethal than normal flu, and it isn’t any more conagiouse than normal flu. So why the panic? Well, thats easy. there are three main reasons:

  1. the panic was started BEFORE we knew it was an over reaction.
  2. No politician or public official will EVER admit that the panic was a mistake. If the flue does somehow turn out to be unusually nasty, they would be crucified.
  3. Most important: the regular old flu doesn’t make headlines, increase your ratings, or keep viewers tuned in.

So there ya go. Nothing big. So far. We really need another couple of weeks to determine if this is anything more than a fart in a paper bag, but so far, it looks a lot like soeone has been eating too many beans.

Someone open a window.  Or light a match.

whatever.

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