The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Swine Flu ‘outbreak’ to be a global pandemic, the first flu pandemic declared by the body since 1968. This is a real head-scratcher though. The WHO is clear in its declaration that the word ‘pandemic’ does not connote any particular level of severity, but merely geographic spread. The Swine Flu is, by all accounts, quite mild and relatively harmless by flu standards. It is being declared pandemic because it is present all around the world now after having started off in Mexico.
But . . . wait a minute here. The regular seasonal flu spreads worldwide twice each year, once in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter and again in the Southern Hemisphere’s. These regular, seasonal flus—which kill an average of 36,000 people in the United States annually—do not constitute a ‘pandemic’, so why does the Swine Flu? Even with the WHO declaring that the word ‘pandemic’ has nothing to do with severity, most people interpret the word as implying the disease is something they have to worry about. The media’s ongoing fascination with the Swine Flu as some kind of AIDS-like super-bug just adds to the insanity.
Let’s get some perspective. The Swine Flu’s current U.S. death toll is 50 in the U.S., out of 15,500 confirmed cases. The seasonal flu average is 36,000 deaths/year and 5-20 percent of the U.S. population (so about 15,300,000 cases in a mild year). By my calculation, the severity of the Swine Flu is thus currently about 0.14 percent or 0.10 percent the severity of the regular, un-newsworthy, un-pandemic, boring old seasonal flu, depending on whether you calculate based on deaths or the lowest average number of infections.
So let me join with the rest of the world and scream: IT’S A PANDEMIC! OH NO! RUN!
Now let’s go about our regular business like rational, thinking adults who aren’t particularly worried about the relatively small chance of catching a mild flu with a scary name . . . please?