Thursday, May 28, 2009

Swine flu - a reality check

Now that the swine flu is receding from the front page it is the time to see what can be learned from the experience. The whole episode shows what can happen when panic overtakes fact and well meaning authorities end up fanning rather than dousing the flames.

A look at history is helpful first up. The first link describes the epidemics of flu over the last century. There is a pattern .The 1918 flu claimed 500,000 live sin the USA.The flu of 1957,around 70,000 died in 1967, around 33,800 and in 1976 there was one death from Swine flu in the USA .Unfortunately there were 500 deaths from complications of the vaccine(link 3) which was given to 40million people(unnecessarily in my view). Add to this the small number of deaths from SARS and the Bird flu and you wonder what all the fuss is about.

The term pandemic(link 2) sounds important but actually means presence of a virus in the environment. Level 5 pandemic sound s like a code red when you consider there are only 6 levels. Consider though that Level one means no cases anywhere in humans of a virus. Level 5 means human spread in more than one country in a WHO region . In other words as soon as one person crosses a border with a virus and passes it to one other person ,it is level 5 pandemic. Sounds dramatic but can mean only a handful of cases.

The next issue is how numbers are reported. We saw in one weekend(May 2and 3- link 4)the number of deaths drop from 176 to 16 and the number of cases shrink from 2500 to 443 (the numbers have risen again gradually). Why? Because the powers that be decided to use only figures where swine flu had been confirmed. This is and clearly was quite different to suspected cases. Anyone with a fever and runny nose can be a suspected case .Only those who test positive to H1N1 virus are proved cases.
As at May 27 there were 13000 cases worldwide and 91 deaths. This is not a big number compared to a regular flu and the number of deaths is tiny compared to deaths from each of cancer, heart disease and on the roads in the same time.

Even then whether people who died do so because of or with the virus is questionable This is particularly an issue when those who are already ill with other diseases get a virus(of any kind).

The stockpiling of masks and “antiviral” medication is good for manufacturers of these products but not much use to anyone else. When you read the product information on the two flu drugs you will see they are not a cure. At best they shorten the course of the illness.

The media love a story and to blame them is shooting the messenger.I believe the finger needs to be pointed at officials who like to cry that the sky is falling.This makes them look important and feel like they are doing something. Better still they can claim the credit for saving lives ,which those on public health love to do .( Notice how little is heard of the 500 deaths from vaccine complications in1976)

It is seen as a no lose situation in that even if there is no crisis they can claim that either their actions prevented calamity or well we did the right thing even though there was no danger after all.The problem with this is that after three times calling that the sky is falling( SARS ,Bird Flu and now swine flu) if there ever is a genuine threat will the authorities be seen as chicken little.

Ultimately though the real question is why the panic over any sort of flu. The flu is a virus .Clearly the trend over 90 years has been less deaths each “pandemic”. Yes the flu is an issue for those with compromised immunity but this is the same with regular flu.

As we saw in an earlier blog (April 27) the best defense against flu or infection of any kind is to have a healthy immune system. Important elements are correct nutrition(including supplements if needed) adequate sleep and managing stress. As Louis Pasteur reportedly said later in life "The seed (germ)is nothing, the soil (body) is everything."

Care for your soil(body ) and then you don’t have to worry about flu or the paranoia of health authorities and their sometimes less than helpful interventions. 1 2 3 4

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