Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Why Swine Flu Probably Won't Kill You (and Me)
I think there's a lot the Mexican government is not telling us about swine flu. The official line is that the disease first showed itself in Mexico City about two weeks ago, killing about 150 people, out of the 2,000 or so known cases.
I don't buy it.
The disease is showing up in Mexico all the way from the Yucatan to the Texas and California borders. That suggests it's everywhere in Mexico. So it's been around longer than two weeks. The Mexicans finally owned up to it at the end of the tourism season, after the spring break crowd went home. And guess who most of the known cases outside Mexico are now? High school kids who came back a few weeks ago from Mexican vacations.
Now, about those percentages, and why they don't jibe with what we're seeing in North America. I suspect most Mexicans (along with most Canadians) don't bother going to the doctor when they get a mild flu. This flu is not striking healthy young people down dead like the Spanish flu of 1918 and the small outbreak of swine flu in 1975. In fact, not a single case in North America has required hospitalization at all.
We'll see accurate numbers in North America because every person who gets the flu in the next few months will run to a doctor and the doctors will report every case. That's what's happening now, and it's showing a far different situation than the media first came out with.
What we're seeing in North America is a mild flu traceable to Mexico. Yes, it could mutate into something more virulent. So could the flu that I had earlier this winter. They're all variations of the same virus.
Some of the Chicken Littles say we're overdue for a pandemic, and seem disappointed the bird flu of two years ago didn't make the cut. But we won't see another 1918, at least not from influenza, as long as we have anti-viral drugs, antibiotics and ventilators. We're not going to see Black Plague, either, because in the rare cases when someone catches it, it's cured with Cypro.
The media, especially TV, feeds on fear. I remember one recent Ottawa Citizen lead paragraph that said, "Be afraid. Be very afraid." Well, I suppose the Depression, which hardly resembles the 1930s, hasn't been scary enough. Terrorists haven't held up their end, either. So now it's swine flu. But swine flu is no SARS.
We'll be alright.