Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine flu again

I am touching on this issue again because I have noticed that a lot of people do not know how to react to the bombardment of news they are subjected to; I was surprised (and a little revolted) by the time that was given by the Media yesterday to the death of a Mexican child in Texas which, sad as it is, should have been better employed to inform the public.

A few points that might help you interpret correctly what is going on:

  • between 250,000 and 500,000 people die every year of seasonal flu
  • normally, the more dangerous the virus is to its host, the less it will spread (e.g. Ebola)
  • understand the difference between Case Fatality Ratio (CFR), virulence and mortality rate
  • Mexico’s numbers are, for the moment, almost useless to determine any of the above (in fact yesterday Vivienne Allan, from WHO's patient safety program, said the body had confirmed that worldwide there had been just seven deaths - all in Mexico - and 79 confirmed cases of the diseasenot 150 as circulated before)
  • relatively recent epidemic/pandemic fears like Mad Cow disease, SARS and Avian Influenza have had a beneficial effect in promoting awareness, stockpiling of anti-viral drugs and preparation of contingency plans; however, authorities must balance these advantages against crying wolf too many times.
  • the 1918 pandemic that killed 50 million people is often quoted; remember though that at the time the world was just coming out of  World War I and no anti-viral drugs or antibiotics (to cure respiratory complications) were available.
  • take also into account, that vested interests, political agendas, snake oil salesmen must be factored in when reading or watching news about swine flu (or anything else for that matter)

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