So everyone seems to be in a mild panic over the swine flu outbreak that has killed 150 people so far in Mexico. This is amusing when you consider the death toll from ordinary flu:
Since January, more than 13,000 people have died of complications from seasonal flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report on the causes of death in the nation.
No fewer than 800 flu-related deaths were reported in any week between January 1 and April 18, the most recent week for which figures were available.
The report looks at deaths in the 122 largest cities in the United States.
Worldwide, the annual death toll from the flu is estimated to be between 250,000 and 500,000.
The only real concern to be had about the swine flu is that it’s a new strain so there’s no vaccine for it yet, but there probably will be before too long and in the meantime there are effective anti-viral medications that’ll work on it. The vast majority of people that catch swine flu will survive it, though there’s likely to be a few deaths given how many people ordinary flu kills on a regular basis. It’s something to be aware of, but nothing to panic about. Especially when you consider some other historical flu outbreaks to put things in perspective:
It’s estimated that about 28 per cent of Canadians and Americans contracted the Spanish flu. Worldwide, an estimated 2.5 per cent of the sick died of complications, which made the pandemic one of the most lethal flu outbreaks in recorded history. Certainly it was one that imprinted itself upon human consciousness for several generations.
But there’s another way to look at those statistics. You might observe, for example, that they mean that even during the worst ravages of the 1918 flu, 97.5 per cent of those infected survived and recovered. Or that 72 per cent of the population—even in the absence of the sophisticated public health planning and infrastructure that Canada and the U.S. have since built—was not infected during the pandemic.
So, even if we had a repeat of the 1918 flu, the chances were seven out of 10 that you wouldn’t catch it and if you did, the odds were better than nine out of 10 that you’d survive.
You want a pandemic to panic about? How about panicking a little over AIDS?
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has led to the deaths of more than 25 million people since it was first recognized in 1981, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Despite recent improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, in 2007 the AIDS pandemic killed an estimated 2.1 million people, including 330,000 children. In 2007, an estimated 33.2 million people lived with the disease worldwide, with an estimated 2.5 million people newly infected in 2007. This has been attributed to lack of access to antiretroviral treatment in huge areas such as the continent of Africa, where less than 10 percent of infected are reported to have access to it. The pandemic is not homogeneous within regions, with some countries more afflicted than others. Even at the country level, there are wide variations in infection levels between different areas. The number of people living with HIV continues to rise in most parts of the world, despite the implementation of prevention strategies. Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst-affected region, with an estimated 22.5 million people living with HIV at the end of 2007, 68% of the global total. South & South East Asia have an estimated 12% of the global total.
Now that’s something to get a little panicky about.