Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Swine flu goes viral

The total number of swine flu cases confirmed in the UK is doubling roughly every six days.

(The Health Protection Agency didn’t give daily figures for June 27-29, just saying that there were 1687 confirmed new cases in that period. I’ve divided that figure evenly to give bars for those three days.)

It’s clear that in many parts of the country, the containment phase is now over; elsewhere, containment won’t be much use for long. The swine is out of the bag.

But this shouldn’t send us all into a panic. Of these 6538 cases, only three have resulted in deaths – and in all three cases, there were serious pre-existing illnesses.

The official number of cases is also too small. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only 1 case in 36 over there has been confirmed. Even if our detection systems are better, then this still suggests that the large majority of cases are going undetected – mostly because the symptoms are very mild or even non-existent.

If the confirmed UK cases amount to, say, a quarter of the total, then that would make a fatality rate of about 1 in 9000.

The major worries will come if a drug-resistant strain of H1N1 starts spreading - or, as the Guardian’s health editor warns:

The biggest concern for public health experts is that the flu will die down and then return in an altered and more dangerous form in the winter. The one positive side of the rapid spread of infection is that those who get it now may have some degree of immunity.

And, of course, countries with less developed health services will be hit harder.


Matt M said...

So... the *risk* of swine flu spreading rapidly got mass media coverage, while the *fact* of it gets hardly a peep.

Don't you just love the press?

Liam Murray said...

But hasn't Ed Balls suggested they're coming down...?


Tom Freeman said...

Oh for heaven's sake, Liam! The projections very clearly show that once everyone's caught it and half the population has died, cases will indeed come down. Trust you to talk the country down by taking the short-term view...


Tom Freeman said...


As so often seems to be the case, by the time something actually happens, it's not news any more. It's becoming increasingly clear that reality just isn't cut out for the age of 24-hour rolling news.

Homeopathy said...

Swine flu is very dangerous disease. Its almost fatal. It is spreading rapidly across the world. One has to keep place germ-free, avoid crowded places, cover mouth with a mask.