Monday, April 27, 2009

Pig Flu - Why I Am Less Than Scared

"Come here you mass murdering bastard!"

It's been pretty well impossible to turn on the TV over the past few days without having to endure a stream of near hysterical news items predicting the end of humanity as we know it, all because some Mexicans died of the flu. Now let's be clear here: I think Mexicans are wonderful people and really don't want any of them to be dying of flu, be it pig, duck, Asian or otherwise. But so far they have been the only victims, so let's just look at the facts here before we all head to the underground bunkers and break out the gas masks, OK?
  • Every year, the US suffers approximately 36,000 deaths from flu, an annual figure that's slowly rising.

  • So far, not one death in the US, or indeed anywhere else but Mexico, can be chalked up to this particular flu variant.

  • As of today, 40 US flu cases are thought to be tied directly to this strain. That's it.

  • Existing anti-virals like Tamiflu seem to work quite well on this one, which is a good thing because there appear to be large stockpiles left over from the last flu scare.

  • This version actually has characteristics that make it a mix of bird/swine/human flu, so it's not all that new and scary once you get right down to it.

  • Pigs can harbor things way worse than flu, such as Ebola, so we're better off than some. Flu makes you feel bad for a few days; Ebola kills you when your internal organs liquify.

  • World pandemics have been declining in impact over the years, with nothing really major since 1969. Despite increasing air travel, we're getting better and better and controlling these things even when there are new outbreaks of completely new strains, which this isn't.

However you try and do the maths it's very hard to see how you might characterise this as a pandemic; it's hard yet to even call it an narrow-demic, but I suppose I could live with a more accurate term like "outbreak", if anyone were willing to use it.

But then, where would be the news mileage in that?

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