Remember Swine Flu? It Was Worse Than You Thought
Remember H1N1, also known as swine flu? Back in 2009, many experts were predicting it would become a major outbreak that could profoundly affect communities. Americans lined up by the thousands for a vaccine that seemed to be forever in short supply, while news outlets trumpeted dire predictions of a global pandemic. And then, it all just seemed to fizzle.
Final tallies from the era, based on CDC estimates, placed the number of deaths worldwide at less than 20,000 – a big number, but hardly a global epidemic. Now a pair of new studies have dramatically increased that figure, based on more solid fatality data and better information about the many people who died as a result of secondary flu symptoms. The new number: between 300,000 and 400,000 deaths:
Both counts were many more than the 18,449 laboratory-confirmed cases that the W.H.O. stood by as its official count in 2009 because agency officials were reluctant to guess at fatality rates. Some politicians, particularly in Europe, used the low official W.H.O. death rate to argue that fear of the pandemic had been overblown. They accused vaccine companies of fanning the public’s fears to sell more of their product.
In fact it seems the public’s fears were, if anything, under-fanned. This is a good lesson in the value of erring on the side of caution, and a nice object lesson in how global medicine may take many years to reveal a clear picture of events. It should also stand as a seasonal reminder to get your flu shot, and to go visit an expert ENT if you have any lingering respiratory symptoms that don’t respond to OTC medicines.