H1N1: pandemics in perspective
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The swine flu virus that has sparked fear and precautions worldwide appears to be no more dangerous than the regular flu virus that makes its rounds each year, U.S. officials said Monday. [That's last week, Monday a week ago, mind you.]First, reporting the raw numbers of deaths in the upswing of an epidemic tells you nothing about the dynamics of the situation. Moreover, "how sick you get" or the severity of the illness is NOT the same thing as how "dangerous" an illness is. I don't know if I'm the only one who thinks this, but I would evaluate the "dangerousness" of an illness as its fatality rate, that is, if you get sick, this is the probability that you will actually die. For instance, the probability you will die in a given skydiving jump is 1 in 100,000 (0.001% fatality).  Similarly, "you would have to jump 17 times per year for your risk of dying in a skydiving accident to equal your risk of dying in a car accident if you drive 10,000 miles per year." 
"What the epidemiologists are seeing now with this particular strain of U.N. is that the severity of the disease, the severity of the flu -- how sick you get -- is not stronger than regular seasonal flu," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday as the worldwide number of confirmed cases of swine flu -- technically known as 2009 H1N1 virus -- topped 1,080.
The flu has been blamed for 26 deaths: 25 in Mexico and one in the United States, according to the World Health Organization.
The fatality rate for the 1918 H1N1 flu was > 2.5%, as compared to < 0.1% . In comparison, fatality rate is about 0.1% for the Asian and Hong Kong flus,. Let's take a quick, back-of-the-envelope look at the numbers for the 2009 H1N1 virus. It has been in Mexico the longest, so we have the best sample size in terms of latency. 58 deaths divided by 2,282 cases gives us 2.54% (5/12/2009), which looks pretty similar to the 1918 H1N1 virus.
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