Flu Hype, and reality

Swine Flu - Humorous Image via Flickr User djugglerBelow is an interesting video for those caught up in the swine flu (which it isn’t) hype.
As a bit of background, Hans Rosling is a doctor and researcher who I first ‘saw’ when he presented at TED 2006 – in this video he demonstrates some really interesting data from the World Health Organisation using Gapminder to illustrate the information in an incredibly captivating manner.

Now while Hans doesn’t discount the potential future risk of Influenza A (H1N1), he does point out the hype the media is attaching to the virus when compared to other preventable causes of death.

So, the point of the post (I guess) is that while it’s great that places such as my sons day care center are reinforcing basic preventative measures such as:

  • Regular hand washing and drying
  • Covering your cough or sneeze with your arm not your hand
  • Keeping children with any symptoms at home until they are well.

The reality is, these are life skills which don’t need a hyped up flu variant to be taught – especially in countries with ready access to medical care, and for patients who are neither very young, nor very old.

On average, the (generic) ‘flu is caught by between 3-5 million people each year, and between 0.8 to 1% (or 250,000 to 500,000 people) die from it annually. As the video points out, Influenza A (H1N1) can only claim a mortality rate of around 0.06 to 0.25%… so where were the news stories last year, and the year before that, and the year before that? As molecular virologist Dr Christopher Olsen says in the article linked above;

‘Let’s not lose track of the fact that the normal seasonal influenza is a huge public health problem that kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone and hundreds of thousands around the world,’

Calm down, wash your hands and wait for the media to start reporting on something more worthwhile like, ooh – the global financial issues which actually ARE affecting a large number of people in very real ways.

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