Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here, Have Some Flu

3D model of an influenza virus, courtesy National Institute of HealthFor the first couple of days this week, the national & local TV news reports did their best to beat the drum of panic regarding "swine flu".

Yesterday, that changed. They started discussing simple, rather than draconian, measures to avoid contracting flu. On both the national news (NBC) and the local news (NBC affiliate) the reporters ate pork on-air, and explained that pork is not a vector for transmission of what they now call "H1N1 influenza". Gotta protect those pork producers. They pointed out that only a fraction of people get the flu, and only a tiny fraction among those get a serious case, with a fraction of those dying.

And they (finally) pointed out that, in an average year, 36,000 Americans die of the flu, with 13,000 fatalities so far in 2009 (>100 per day) from "seasonal flu". That's something on the order of a 12% infection rate and a 0.1% kill rate (among the infected) for seasonal flu.

The big unanswered question for H1N1 is, what's the kill rate? Apparently it's higher ... but they're unsure how high, because so many cases are so mild that they go unreported. We're also entering into summer, which allegedly helps reduce the severity of a flu outbreak. If it kills only a few thousand Americans, its impact may be lost in the noise of average flu fatalities. But because they/we are paying attention to it, it'll come off as a really big deal. Imagine the headlines if we have a month of H1N1 flu with an average of >100 fatalities per day!

I'm not convinced.

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