CDC is reporting about 14,000 confirmed or probable cases of swine flu, although they have already said this may represent only a fraction of the total number of infected. I wasn’t able to find the latest number of those hospitalized (some of you probably have it but I couldn’t locate it with a quick search), but my recollection is that it is somewhere around 300. That puts the hospitalization rate at around 2% of the confirmed/probable cases (I round figures liberally because they are too uncertain to worry about precision). 2% is the same number the Chilean health authorities are using for serious complications there:
The Institute of Public Health in Santiago reported 24 new cases of the virus, officially known as A/H1N1, taking the national toll to 393, it said in a statement on its Web site yesterday. About 98 percent of infections in the South American country result in ?mild? disease. The rest are serious, and one was fatal, the institute said. (Jason Gale, Bloomberg)
The flu seems to be spreading with ease in Chile as it is in Australia, Japan, the UK and Spain. There is no doubt that this is a pandemic strain. WHO has yet to raise its alert system to the pandemic level (6), which emphasizes an important point: it doesn’t matter. No one who wasn’t in a deep coma needed to be alerted. I quoted once before the military adage that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, and this goes equally for pandemic flu plans, it seems. The WHO pandemic alert system, which was instituted in 2003 and had never been seriously tested until this outbreak, immediately met a pandemic it couldn’t handle, not because it was so severe but because it wasn’t severe enough. As a result it turned out the alert system was more of a problem than a help. The WHO could have merely announced that a novel strain of flu had spread world wide and should be considered a pandemic strain of lesser to moderate severity. We wouldn’t then be arguing about the obvious.
Instead of revamping the alert system, WHO should consider scrapping it in favor of an up-to-date information system. Thanks to the internet there is a global communication channel that makes any official international alert system obsolete. Use of the system doesn’t empower WHO under the International Health Regulations, so nothing is lost.
Unlike some, I’m sympathetic to the fix WHO got themselves in over the pandemic alert system. WHO didn’t see it coming and neither did anyone else I know of. We all accepted that the system made sense, was needed and was workable. So we all learned something from this.
Let’s move on.