Wednesday, October 28, 2009

H1N1 "Swine" Flu

I have been confused about H1N1. The news reports that 1,000 people have died from it, but is that 1,000 out of 1,000 or 1,000 out of 17 million? There is no context to it. They report hyped up stories about a person dying from H1N1, but then it turns out the person did not die from H1N1 but from "complications"--where their immune system was compromised and they got an additional infection. You hear about how 60% of the hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in those under 65, when with the seasonal flu it is usually the reverse (i.e. 60% of the serious cases are in those over 65).

Then if you're like us, you hear about H1N1 infections in friends and friends of friends, and they're not dying. You hear about school classrooms where 5-6 kids at a time contract it, yet there are no follow up reports about schools where half of the kids have died...apparently they are recovering from the infections without much fanfare. You hear about doctors telling their patients that they do not need to get confirmation that they have H1N1, because they would treat it the same either way. So much for tracking the "deadly" pandemic as it spreads like wildfire across the nation.

Many health professionals are still seriously urging people to get vaccinated, but are saying that H1N1 is presenting in about the same way as the seasonal flu. Although there are some (perhaps disconcerting) differences from the seasonal flu, it is not some super deadly virus ravaging the earth's population.

The US Federal Government's Flu.gov site has a page about H1N1. Here are the highlights (if you trust the government ;) ):

  • About 70% of the people who have been hospitalized have had one or more medical conditions that placed them in the "high risk" category.
  • People over 64 do not appear to have an increased risk of complications.
  • Although there have been hospitalizations and deaths, the vast majority of people who have contracted H1N1 have recovered without medical treatment.
  • H1N1 spreads the same way as seasonal flu (coughing, sneezing, person-to-person contact). It is not an airborne super contagious version of the flu.

The CDC also has a page about the characteristics of H1N1. More highlights:

  • Between April and July of 2009, it is estimated that about 1 million people had been infected with H1N1, and of those 1 million about 5,000 people had been hospitalized and about 300 had died.
  • H1N1 occurs most often among 5-24 year olds.
  • Hospitalizations occur most often among 0-4 year olds.
  • Deaths occur more often among 5-24 year olds. But again the deaths usually occur in cases where there are other underlying medical conditions.

Another whole set of issues, which I won't go into here, has to do with the vaccination. All I can say is that as far as I know there is nothing "different" or "untested" about this vaccine. It is prepared the same way as the vaccine for the seasonal flu, it just contains a different strain of the virus. There is more information about the vaccination at flu.gov.

I am not a health professional, statistician, or expert in any way. I may have misinterpreted something, if so, let me know. This is just food for thought, and perhaps a voice of balance among the hype.

2 comments:

Alex Hall said...

Okay Paul, so I think this is the only post on here that I understood......too much computer talk!

I agree, there seems to be a lot of hype about the swine flu, but the families that I know that have had it have gotten pretty sick from it. They've all survived, and only one person has had to be hospitalized, but it's still not something we want to deal with. We opted to not get the regular and swine flu vaccines because we figure we're better off taking our chances with actually getting the viruses. Still not 100% certain if it was the right decision, but it was our decision nonetheless.

paul said...

Alex,
Thanks for the comment. Not sure I can do much about the other posts, because this blog will always be a computer blog :)...it was the H1N1 post that is abnormal.

My intention isn't to dissuade people from getting the vaccine, and obviously my article wasn't a factor in your decision. Personally, I think we will get vaccinated, if we could ever get a hold of the vaccine, it's in such short supply.

Nor was I trying to say that it would be fun to get H1N1. My impression from the news media and elsewhere has confused me. I think the news had painted a more dire and deadly picture than is reality. They do love a sensational story!

I only wanted to clear things up for myself, and perhaps others.