Damn the Pigs

So, have you heard about this thing they’re calling H1N1? Apparently, they used to call it the “Swine Flu,” but that was impacting the pork industry negatively, so they decided to call it something else instead. I hear it’s killed something like a billion people, or close to it. I mean, they’re calling it a pandemic and everything, aren’t they? Surely they wouldn’t do that for no good reason.

Okay, don’t get me wrong here, I do think that swine flu is something to be concerned about. Frankly, I think any illness is something to be concerned about. The human body is an intricate machine, and disrupting the workings of the machine even a little can have terrible consequences. That’s why people die suddenly from all sorts of innocuous things. That’s why the common cold or the regular influenza can be deadly. So, there’s no reason to take H1N1 lightly, if you don’t take those other illnesses and disorders lightly.

At the same time, though, I can’t help but look at where all the panic is really stemming from. You can’t turn on your computer, TV or radio, let alone open a newspaper, without being bombarded with swine flu information and reports. Really, I think this is about as famous as pigs have ever been, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. We’re hearing everything there is to hear about anything related to swine flu, 24/7, and all indications seem to predict that this will continue for the forseeable future.

What’s more interesting is what we aren’t hearing, though.

Swine flu, for instance, is nothing new. The CDC has reported that one or two cases of human infection by swine flu in the US have been reported every couple years from 2005 to 2009. Sure, that’s a far cry from the number of infections we’re seeing right now, but the point is that this illness has been around for a long time, and may have been causing infections in humans without being reported. Seriously, is it that hard to believe that something with incredibly generic symptoms might have been circulating previously without being labelled, and is only now being given a name because we’re either better or more vigilant in identifying the strain of the illness or we’re more rabid in our media attention?

Symptoms of this respiratory illness include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, a fever (sometimes high), occasionally diarrhea and vomiting, lethargy and fatigue, aches and pains. If you can’t name at least two other things that those symptoms can also indicate, you’ve been living in the woods for far too long.

I’ve heard and read that doctors aren’t even testing for H1N1 anymore; they’re diagnosing based on symptoms. Now, with the list of symptoms given above, and the aforementioned prevalence of these symptoms in the diagnosis of other ailments, like the seasonal cold and the regular flu, isn’t it quite likely that a lot of these diagnosed cases of H1N1 are really cases of the regular flu, or something else entirely? Of the tens of thousands of “confirmed” cases worldwide, how many of them have been diagnosed based on generic symptoms that could, in fact, indicate something very un-H1N1?

But, swine flu is a pandemic. According to the WHO, a pandemic is a worldwide epidemic of a disease. An epidemic occurs when there are more cases of a particular disease reported than normal. The declaration of a pandemic has nothing to do with how serious the disease is; pandemic has everything to do with how far and wide something is spreading, and nothing to do with how deadly or dangerous the disease itself is. It’s not intentionally misleading, it just ends up working that way. After all, the word “pandemic” gives rise to all sorts of nasty, terrible thoughts, and brings to memories movies like “Outbreak.”

At last report, fewer than 2000 individuals had been hospitalized due to H1N1, and less than 100 casualties had been noted. According to a 2008 estimate, the Canadian population numbers over 33-million people. This means that H1N1, confirmed by tests or visibility of symptoms, has resulted in a hospitalization rate of less than 0.006%, with a fatality rate of less than 0.0003%.

By comparison, Health Canada estimates that annually there are 700 to 2500 deaths due to regular influenza. This would mean a casualty rate of 0.008%, on the outside, almost four times worse than current swine flu figures.

I’ll be the last one to say that you shouldn’t take the swine flu seriously; I’m a hypochondriac, so I take everything seriously. But, I think there needs to be a little reality adjuvant mixed in with the H1N1 hype we’re being hosed with. Yes, this disease is contagious and has spread rapidly, and in some cases it has been severe and even resulted in deaths. The same can be said for the regular flu, which we experience every year, without all the fanfare and pomp. If you become ill, see your doctor. If you are accustomed to doing so, or feel strongly about it, get the vaccine. Let’s not start planning for quarantine camps, fiery implosive purges or a post viral apocalypse just yet, though. The sky has not yet fallen.

Unless this is all just a prelude to the pigs’ true full-snouted master plan.


AOLHealth – Swine Flu: What You Need To Know
WHO Influenza Pandemic Info
CMAJ: Estimates of Flu-Related Deaths Rise with New Statistical Models

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1 comment so far

Well said!

November 3rd, 2009 at 2:00 am

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