November 27, 2009

H1N1 Hysteria

The 2009 pandemic warnings and the worldwide response are overblown. This is (and continues to be) one of the most unnecessary and expensive medical “crises” in modern memory. The hysteria is particularly concerning in light of the fact that the virus has completely failed to live up to its projected potency and virulence. Fewer deaths have been reported with H1N1 than with the expected seasonal variety, and the signs indicate that flu cases are already dropping worldwide.

CDC reports that 4 thousand people have died from H1N1 in this country, but that figure is debatable, since that illustrious organization recently lumped bacterial infections and “flu-like illnesses” with confirmed cases, and has since reported these deaths as H1N1 related.

Even with the exaggerated numbers, there is little comparison to seasonal flu-related deaths, or any previous epidemic for that matter. The last major swine flu epidemic (1918) killed 50 million, the 1957 Asian flu an estimated 2 million, and the 1968 Hong Kong variety took over a million lives. Only a few months ago public health officials worldwide were predicting hundreds of thousands of deaths from H1N1, but to date only a few thousand have perished. This swine flu pandemic is failing to live up to its billing.

That hasn’t slowed the hysteria. As a result of the original nightmare “pandemic” scenarios, state and local governments wasted billions of dollars stockpiling Tamiflu and producing vaccines. The media has spread panic, the drug companies and the medical research establishment have reaped huge profits, naturopaths and homeopaths have taken over the talk shows and the charlatans have profited handsomely.

As with hyped-up panics of the past, there is great incentive to inflate the estimates. Governments use the hysteria to justify increased expansion, the media and advertisers gain a captive audience, drug companies profit from production of vaccines and remedies, and researchers receive massive research grants.

Health professionals are finally beginning to agree that the original estimates were ridiculously exaggerated, but the damage is done. Orwell would be proud.



Lockwood said...

The fact that it was and is a pandemic is undeniable. Putting "pandemic" in quotes suggests you do not understand how widespread- globally and nationally- it is. The impact was unknowable until it was upon us. I have a young friend who was in a medically induced coma for 6 weeks as a result of H1N1 and complications, and is still hospitalized 10 weeks after first going to the emergency room.

I will grant that the mortality rate for this flu has been low, but word of mouth and reports in Oregon papers suggest that the physical impact of the illness are among the worst known. Oregon State University, across the street from where I sit, has been hit pretty hard; there had been about 2000 identified cases as of a month ago (that's ~10% of the student population), and when you consider that most of the students I've talked to didn't seek medical advice when they came down with flu-like symptoms, the actual number of cases is likely several times higher.

In short, this bug is a nasty piece of work, and while thankfully it hasn't outright killed as many people as it might have, I don't believe it was "wasteful" to attempt to be prepared for the worst.

BTW, when my friend is "fully recovered" he is expected to have 40-50% lung function, and a seriously weakened heart. But at this point they're pretty confident he'll live.

Old NFO said...

The other "interesting' point is apparently the H1N1 has mutated, so the vaccine is less effective than desired, now requiring TWO doses per child... sigh...

Mule Breath said...

Lockwood, Yes, I fully understand the term "pandemic" and also understand that H1N1 meets that technical definition. My point is that the message and meaning was exaggerated and cost considerable unnecessary angst. Seasonal flu this year has been far more dangerous and hurt many more individuals, all the while maintaining a lower profile.

While I regret that you were personally affected, I maintain that the alarmism was overblown to the nth degree, and that the fear-mongering did little to stem the effect, serving only to divert precious resources.

I wish your friend well in any event.

Labrys said...

Also, I think it is worth considering that part of the "hysteria" included unusual vigilance on the part of schools and other areas of public access to clean often and reduce the chances of contagion. I would prefer a bit of over-vigilance that might help avert a pandemic than completely ignoring and pooh-poohing the possibilities.