The swine flu reporting makes me sick. The World Health Organization (WHO) should be giving us the facts but they aren’t. There are many reasons to be sick of the swine flu but why should one of them be the information presented to us by the authorities? Here is the bullet summery from the top of today’s Reuters News:
* Rough estimate of likely H1N1 cases by end is 2 billion
* No precise estimate of current infections
* High proportion of southern hemisphere flu cases are H1N1
* WHO to update on vaccine efforts this week
* WHO names African expert as H1N1 chief
This appears to be useful information about the flu but it isn’t. There is more in the article but it isn’t much more helpful. Let me show you why:
* Rough estimate of likely H1N1 cases by end is 2 billion — This is misleading because ultimately nearly everyone will catch a flu based on these new viruses. A new strain of virus comes into being based on some new genetic mixing and is around for many years before it is displaced by some new change. What Reuters may have meant to say was that 2 billion people may be infected this flu season. However, what is more important is how severe the infection will be and how to slow down transmission. Usually it is the first round or two of a new flu is most deadly and after that its morbidity drops off but almost everyone will get it sooner or later. So the goal is to give people the tools to slow the rate of transmission until the morbidity eases.
* No precise estimate of current infections — This is a quibble statement because no matter what degree of precision is achieved some pundit can always step forward with a questionable case and challenge the precision. There are reasonable estimates of current infections and these may not be highly accurate but even the modest degree of precision helps to see what is happening.
* High proportion of southern hemisphere flu cases are H1N1 — This is a meaningful statement because what it means is that the H1N1 is displacing the other subtypes, H2N2 and H3N2. The Southern Hemisphere is in the midst of their annual flu season and as that season progresses the H1N1 becomes more prevalent. That is a good proxy forecast for what the Northern Hemisphere will probably experience this winter.
* WHO to update on vaccine efforts this week — This isn’t news! It is a statement that a scheduled update is going to be presented. What that new information is will be news. Okay it’s information but hardly bullet worthy information. Hopefully the news to be presented will be that there will be plenty of vaccine for everyone to get a shot. Well, that’s a forlorn hope.
* WHO names African expert as H1N1 chief — What? WHO hasn’t had anyone on this epidemic just yet? and they are just now getting around to having an “expert” look into it. They might have said they are replacing the previous expert or said there is a new head of the department. Also, one might wonder just a bit about a new viral expert from an area where they still don’t believe the AIDS disease is caused by a virus.
These are trivial complaints perhaps but when the subject is one of deadly peril to billions of human beings, being presented to the public by the number one news agency of the world, from the most authoritative health organization of the world, one could hope for more.
If you want a good overview of the flu read the Wikipedia article Influenza#Pandemics.
Some earlier blogs on flu:
NEJM makes the flu policy confusion worse – review
Surviving the Swine-flu, Bird-flu. 4 new ways.
Mexican flu, bird-flu, swine-flu human-flu deadly flu.
Bird flu is coming sooner or later—so prepare for it.