Saturday, May 2, 2009

Should We Really Be Worried About Swine Flu?

According to CNN, ERs are getting flooded with patients who think they may have swine flu. Overcrowding problems have forced some hospitals to set up tents outside for patients. We see people wearing masks everywhere. Are people overreacting? Are we in a panic mode?

Some may argue that swine flu really isn't a big deal. After all, 5% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu, and more than 200,000 persons are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year. About 36,000 Americans die on average per year from the complications of the regular flu, so what's the big deal about swine flu, right? Let's take things into proper perspective here.

H1N1 - Mexico has reported 397 confirmed human cases of infection, including 16 deaths. We know that these numbers only reflect confirmed cases, so there are many more who are simply "unconfirmed" at this point.

Mexico's death rate is 4.0%. At this rate, if 15 million people get infected, 600,000 people could die and if 60 million people get infected, 2.4 million people could die. Compare that to the 36,000 deaths from the regular flu. Should we be worried about swine flu? I'm afraid that we have to be very concerned. Image source: CNN


  1. Well, except we do not know how many cases of undiagnosed swine there were in Mexico. Meaning, there could have been many "mild" cases that recovered without any medical intervention and never appeared on the radar. If these were considered, perhaps the lethality would be less severe. I am not saying there is no cause for concern, just that we have incomplete information.

  2. We will always have incomplete information. What we can do is take action based on facts and information that is available.

    The facts are clear that the death rate (pecentage of infection vs. deaths) of H1N1 is exponentially higher than the 'normal' flu.

    Hence, we need to exercise caution and continue to educate the public about sanitation and disease transmission. Things that might seem obvious to you and me (washing hands and not coughing without covering your mouth) may not be obvious to everyone.

    Lets hope the media exposure can educate people and limit the spread of this virus.