Thursday, September 10, 2009
The flu is on my mind after Mrs. Van Horn reminded me yesterday that immunization time is nigh and, so, of course, I wondered about the swine flu pandemic.
Hadley Leggett of Wired Science reported about a month ago that history indicated that the flu would probably not turn out to be as bad as many had feared.
[T]wo infectious disease experts from the National Institutes of Health question the idea that severe pandemics are usually preceded by a milder wave of disease. After analyzing 15 pandemics from the last 500 years, including the catastrophic influenza pandemic of 1918, they say the pattern doesn't hold up.And yesterday, Sandy Szwarc of Junkfood Science took a look at how actual numbers compared to projections in Australia, which is near the end of its flu season.
Three months ago, public health experts and even the President of the Australian Medical Association were warning that one-third of the population would get swine flu. As late as last month, the Australian government had ordered 21 million doses of swine flu vaccine, enough to vaccinate the entire population.Curious about whether the low numbers might be attributable in any way to a vaccination program, I found only reports, dated August 20, that Australia might start vaccinations some time this month. Szwarc goes on to note that the flu has not only been less virulent than feared, but has produced a relatively mild illness, quoting an infectious disease expert as saying, "If we have to have influenza, I would clearly choose novel H1N1."
In reality, as of noon today, the Australian Department of Health and Ageing reports that Australia has had 35,775 confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1. The experts had overstated the numbers who would get sick by 203-fold. There have been 162 deaths -- a fraction (5.4%) of the 3,000 Australians who typically die from the seasonal flu each year.
So far, the worst fears have failed to materialize. That's good to hear, but I will likely take the second vaccine anyway. If the vaccine proves to be safe, why get sick at all?
Today: Despite that news, it's not quite time to exhale: Via Glenn Reynolds, it appears that members of certain ethnicities (e.g., "young Canadian aboriginals") may get hit really hard.