Are we there yet??

As I sit here in the grip of a rhino/toga/adenovirus infection [yes, acute rhinitis, just recovered from sore throat, feel like cr@p], it is hard to be optimistic about the demise of the Influenza A H1N1 “Mexico Flu” outbreak – but various media are now jumping as enthusiastically onto the “It Was All a False Alarm” bandwagon as they did onto the “We’re All Doomed” train.

Was it a false alarm?

Has the threatened pandemic gone away?

Peter Singer, the director of the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health at University Health Network and University of Toronto, wrote this in Canada’s National Post on May 11th [bolded red comments my emphais]:

It’s been a fortnight since global attention began fixating on flu. There have been over 4,379 cases worldwide and more than 280 in Canada. We are likely past the midpoint of this episode and it’s not the “big one.” We learned lessons from SARS that we applied to this flu outbreak. This time, how have we done and what have we learned?

I would give Canadian public health authorities an A grade. …

I would give the global response a B grade. The human flu emergency turned into a mini Mad Cow-type crisis. Calling it “swine flu” initially skewered the international pork trade, even though public health authorities emphasized that you can’t catch flu from eating pork chops. In Egypt, authorities slaughtered pigs owned by a poor Christian minority group, fanning religious conflict. Afghanistan’s only known pig–in the Kabul zoo — has been quarantined. The casual musings of a World Health Organization official, and the outbreak in Alberta pigs, didn’t help.

The World Health Organization response was robust, but its pandemic scale sends the wrong signal to the public. It can reach its top level in a mild pandemic so it appears to foretell doomsday even if people around the world have only the sniffles. Meanwhile, some countries reacted to criticisms of their actions during SARS with questionable quarantines, such as with the group of healthy Quebec students [and Mexicans] quarantined in China.

Well, so far it looks like he agrees with the thesis that the “pandemic” scare was mostly hype.  But he goes on to warn us:

Did we cry wolf ? No. The flu virus is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Flu, a cunning adversary, can mutate to be more transmissible, lethal and drug resistant. Some have argued the media is drawing attention away from other public health priorities; in fact the flu is probably drawing attention away from Paris Hilton. It is a sad coincidence, though, that while a million people died in the 1957 and 1968 flu pandemics, the same number, mostly children under five in Africa, die each year from malaria.

What is next? This flu episode will probably end like some TV shows: “to be continued.” We’ll be tuning into the flu season just starting in the southern hemisphere and our flu season here next fall.

The threat of flu is constant. It’s like the threat of terrorism. The virus needs to break through only once; we need to stop it every time. But this epidemic of H1N1 has left us better prepared for future pandemics.

So did you all register that?  Possibly, just possibly, the flu outbreak is dying away IN THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE.  WHERE THE FLU SEASON IS OVER.  JUT IN TIME FOR THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE’S SEASON.  And this, we remind you, is followed in October or so by a new northern hemisphere flu season.

Singer finishes with:

In a severe pandemic, most sickness and death will be in the developing world. Unfortunately, the globalization of disease threats is greater than the globalization of health defences. Mexico’s anti-viral stockpile at the beginning of the epidemic was only one million doses for 110 million people [compared to Canada's 55 million for ~20 million by the end], and there are concerns about future availability of flu vaccine in the developing world. Canada should help because we are compassionate and capable, and because, as this epidemic shows, we are all in this together in an interconnected world.

Amen, brother Singer…so in other words, the developing world epidemic is probably still coming, it will be worse than the outbreak we’ve just seen, and there will be way too few drugs to deal with it.

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2 Responses to “Are we there yet??”

  1. Dorian McILROY Says:

    Well it doesn’t seem that harmless to me. If the case mortality rate stays about 1%, there are going to be a lot of people killed if this virus really takes off.

    I just checked the seasonal flu figures for France. There were 2 million GP consultations for flu last winter (2007-2008). Less than 1% of those people needed hospital treatment, and there were only 49 deaths. If we end up with 2 million swine flu cases next winter, it’s going to be bad.

    DMc

  2. Dorian McILROY Says:

    Maybe more like 0.1% for the case mortality rate. Still a big increase on seasonal flu though.

    DMc

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