Why Swine Flu is not a bunch of hogwash

October 29, 2009 By Alan J. Salzberg
This updates my previous blog: "Why Swine flu is a bunch of hogwash?"


Things have changed a bit in the months since that blog, and the hysteria I cited has leveled off. President Obama did declare a swine flu emergency a couple days ago, but I think that was a good idea.


Here is what has changed:
1) Swine flu deaths have been at epidemic levels the last three weeks. The chart below (from the CDC) shows flu and pneumonia deaths as a percentage of all deaths. The upper black line indicates epidemic level, and the red line is the current level. The graph shows four years of weekly figures.



While this graph doesn't look too serious, and 2008 levels were much further above the threshold at their peak, the scary thing here is that it is so early in the season. This graph serves as a reminder, too, that every year the flu kills thousands of people, and the flu vaccine could prevent a large number of those deaths.


2) Hospitals are already getting crowded. One of the big problems with a real epidemic is the overcrowding of hospitals. This means that the really sick people cannot get treatment, and that is part of the reason the emergency was declared. See this article in USA Today about over-crowding. ok, so it's USA Today, a paper that loves hyperbole, but, again, it's early in the season and any indication of overcrowding at this point is scary.


3) The vaccine is not yet fully available. The regular flu vaccine has been out for weeks. Unfortunately, almost none of the flu this year seems to be covered by that vaccine. The majority seems to be 2009 H1N1 (the swine flu). See this chart for a breakdown. Note the orange/brown is 2009 H1N1, and note the yellow means it is not tested for sub-type, so almost all typed flu is swine flu.


That's why I am worried. The other concern is that, even when the vaccine does come out, people won't take it. See my brother's blog about why you should and the crazies who say you should not.