The Wall Street Journal has just reported that over 1,000 people in the Americas, according to data released by the World Health Organization, have died from the Swine Flu. They seem to think you should be alarmed.
The global A/H1N1 swine flu pandemic has claimed 1,154 lives since the outbreak was identified in April, data published by the World Health Organization showed Wednesday.
The Geneva-based health agency also said that the number of laboratory-confirmed cases stood at 162,380 worldwide as of July 31.
The WHO has estimated that 2 billion people, or one in three of the world’s population, will have been infected by the virus by the end of the pandemic.
And I say to you: so what? I don’t say this flippantly or with no concern for life, but I say this because infirm, elderly, and sickly people are supposed to die from the flu. For most of us, getting the flu is like getting a bad cold. We get a fever, runny nose, cough, aches, pains, lose our energy, lose our appetites, and generally feel lousy for a week or two. Our bodies fight the infection, generally win, and then we recover.
For some people, they don’t win. Either the flu gets into their lungs and causes pneumonia, their weakened immune system gets attacked by something else, or their body cannot successfully regulate their own temperature and they overheat to death. (Other causes happen, too, these are just the ones I know of off the top of my head.)
But yes, the flu kills a small percentage of people who get it. Here’s the part I don’t get: the Swine Flu is no more dangerous than Regular Flu. Why are we all riled up? From a report on globalsecurity.org:
During a typical year in the United States, 30,000 to 50,000 persons die as a result of influenza viral infection. Frequently cited numbers are 20,000 deaths each year, and 37,000 annual deaths. About 5-10% of hospitalizations for influenza lead to fatal outcome in adults.
In normal years, although most influenza infection is in children, the serious morbidity and mortality is almost entirely among elderly people with underlying chronic disease. During influenza epidemics from 1979-80 through 2000-01, the estimated overall number of influenza-associated hospitalizations in the United States ranged from approximately 54,000 to 430,000/epidemic. An average of approximately 226,000 influenza-related excess hospitalizations occurred per year, with 63% of all hospitalizations occurring among persons aged > 65 years.
So yes, there’s a new strain of flu going around. There’s a good chance that you might get it. And it’s just as dangerous as the regular old flu that — if you’re anything like me — you’ve probably had a few times before.
Are you elderly? Are you a newborn? Are you sickly, with underlying chronic illnesses? Are you pregnant? These are the people who are at risk for dying from the Swine Flu, but these are also the people at risk of dying from the flu at any given time. If you fall into these categories, you should be taking exceptional care of yourself anyway. So — even though I’m not that kind of doctor — I recommend taking care of yourself, but please be sensible, not paranoid. At this point in time, Swine Flu is actually less widespread than good old influenza.
And don’t let the media get away with using big, round numbers like “1000” to scare you.