Swine Flu

I’ve just done a little research, looking at the WHO website and CDC website, and I’m not sure if I’m missing something important about this swine flu outbreak? According to WHO:





Most of the previously reported swine influenza cases recovered fully from the disease without requiring medical attention and without antiviral medicines.


The viruses obtained from the recent human cases with swine influenza in the United States are sensitive to oselatmivir and zanamivir but resistant to amantadine and remantadine. 

That’s good, right? Most people recover fully WITHOUT TREATMENT and for those who go to the doctor, there are drugs that work. 

I’ll add that I haven’t seen the news in at least a week, so have missed any reportage on the details, but the facts don’t seem all that alarming to me. What am I missing?


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11 responses to “Swine Flu

  1. Anonymous

    Not a lot as far as I can make out. The WHO rep on the radio this morning was doing her best to remind people that there are only seven confirmed deaths from swine flu globally right now, as opposed to the 100+ being thrown about by the media.
    Now that figure is likely to rise (possibly considerably) once tests are completed, but I think everyone needs to remember that (a) people die from influenza all the time, and (b) medicine, health and general sanitation conditions have all improved considerably since 1918 and we’re unlikely to suffer a flu-based pandemic of that scale again.

  2. Anonymous

    There’s a good overview here:
    (probably needs free, and non-spammy registration to read it)
    The 1918 influenza had a 2.5% mortality rate, but it spread so widely tens of millions died. The big Avian flu scare virus a few years ago had a 61% mortality rate, but only 421 people were ever _infected_, worldwide – it didn’t spread very well, human to human.
    Nobody knows the mortality rate of this new version yet – a few tens of cases have been confirmed outside Mexico, none of them fatal. Inside Mexico, there are ~1600 confirmed cases, and 152 of them have died (~10%). That’s probably because the 1600 confirmed cases are the tip of the iceberg, and there’s many more actual cases in Mexico not yet confirmed.
    The problem is, the lower the mortality rate is, the more people there are who don’t get really sick, so continue to spread it thinking they just have a cold…
    Also, the fact that all of the confirmed cases outside the US have survived (so far) is helped by the top-of-the-line medical treatment they are getting. In a third-world country, or a first-world country with even a minor epidemic, the medical system can’t cope…

    • Anonymous

      How much of the media hype is the “is this the big one?” need for soundbytes and to create news?
      Also … thinking back to the Avian flu scare and SARS, how well does sqift action at containing an outbreak mean we actually avoided the big one? And how long can we stave it off?
      Maybe we’re all just looking for something to be excited about in the perverse hunt for news?

  3. Anonymous

    You’re missing absolutely nothing.
    Right now, people are panicking about nothing, IMHO. Sure, it has the possibility of becoming a pandemic, but so does every emerging flu strain. The “regular” flu kills a lot of people every year, something which the media conveniently forgets when it starts scaremongering.

  4. Anonymous

    I reviewed an excellent book for Cosmos a few years back, about the Bird Flu scare. The sensible doctor who wrote it was very careful to point out the facts that the other commenters have mentioned – e.g. that the people who died in the 1918 epidemic had no antibiotics (remember, people were still dying a week after catching a cold back then – it didn’t just happen in books). The thing that stuck in my mind most, though, was that even if the worst came to the worst, the death toll would be minuscule next to the toll of people dying in the third world now of preventable, treatable diseases: malnutrition, diarhhroeia, TB, AIDS, malaria, schistosomiasis, hepatitis and so on.

    • Anonymous

      Antibiotics have zero effect on viruses. None. Zip. Nada. They treat bacteria only. And if you think the toll would be “miniscule” in comparison to existing treatables — tell it to the thirty-odd million who died in the 1918 outbreak. Except that remember: this time, places like China, Africa, and South America won’t be spared due to isolation. Instead, due to overcrowding and lack of decent facilities, they will become charnel houses of horror on a scale I really shudder to imagine.
      Look — it’s entirely possible this Swine ‘Flu outbreak will go nowhere and do nothing, and I really, really hope this will be the case. But truly: you should be aware that if we get a real pandemic with a mortality rate even as low as the Spanish Flu of 1918, you are going to see the world changed in ways you haven’t conceived, at unbelievable cost.

  5. Anonymous

    Vodkalime is right about part of the fear being the possibility of mutation into something more dangerous. That’s not at all unreasonable. Flu mutates rapidly, and it’s entirely possible this could go badly.
    Angriest and Azhure suggest people die from “regular” flu all the time. And so they do: if they’re elderly, or immunocompromised. However, of the hundred-odd dead in Mexico, rather a lot have been young, relatively fit adults. That’s not good. Not good at all.
    Talmor’s point that the 1918 Spanish Flu killed “tens of millions” despite having a mortality rate of 2.5% needs expanding on. That ‘flu outbreak was the absolute worst (in straight-up numbers) epidemic in history. Apply that figure to Australia, even assuming only fifty percent of the population actually catches it, and you have 250,000 people dead.
    Add to this the fact that even if the ‘flu virus is “sensitive” to oseltamivir and zanimivir, the have to be administered early to have best effect… and their best effect is, at most, moderating. Distinctly NOT curative.
    So: you’re not missing anything, no. You’re just not really grasping the possible scale of what’s already there.
    I’ll put it to you another way: we had ‘Flu through here about four years back. At one point, fully half the school population (high school and primary) were out at once. That’s four hundred sick kids in a town of 2500 people. Now, imagine that ten of those kids died. (2.5%) Note I haven’t offered figures on sick adults, because I only know how many kids were missing school at the time — but imagine how our hospital of twenty or thirty beds would have coped with ten dying kids, at least three times that number requiring hospitalisation, and an indeterminate but large number of adults also requiring hospitalisation at the same time.
    Now, put the same scenario in place for every medical facility in the country across a three-month period.
    Like I said: it’s not that you’ve missed anything. It’s that you haven’t fully considered the implications of what’s already there. If it gets worse…

    • Anonymous

      Actually, you forced her to consider the implications (or, at least, the worst case scenario) when you put together an anthology about what would happen if the flu wiped out most of the human race…and some of the leftover people got on a train to Canterbury…
      There’s always the potential for things to get worse. Unlike climate change, where worrying about it has the potential to motivate people to do something useful to prevent it, worrying about deadly flu strains is totally unproductive. You can’t do anything, so just relax!

      • Anonymous

        I can do a lot. I can even relax, but it’s not a nice, blissful relaxation. It’s the kind of relaxation I undertake quite deliberately when I step out onto the dojo floor, preparing to go toe-to-toe with someone whose skills I haven’t assessed yet.
        I know. It probably won’t be worth the effort. But thinking ahead is what I do…

  6. Anonymous

    Let me also add that the Oz government stockpile of Tamiflu (oseltamivir) consists of eight million doses. But if we assume an infection rate of 50%, you need ten million.

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