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May 28, 2009

I guess the mainstream media doesn't understand the epidemology of how a global virus spreads since they have seen it as a bit of a beatup, scare mongering by the health authorities, or the angst of the worried well. Maybe the media thought that the word pandemic implies that the virus is lethal and capable of causing many deaths as well as meaning the global spread of the virus.

Pandemic is an epidemiological definition that has nothing to do with virulence. A pandemic of influenza occurs when a new viral strain emerges to which the population has little or no immunity.


The health authorities have lost the first stage of containment in preventing the virus from entering the country. Although currently it is only mild, the attack rate of the swine flu strain, which is a variant of the Influenza A H1N1 virus, is now affecting 23 countries is around 25-30%. There are now around 67 confirmed cases and around 4 million Australians are expected to suffer from it.

School closures, on the advice of the Health authorities are now a necessary part of the second stage of the containment strategy to limit the spread of the first mild wave (meaning hospitalization isn't necessary, not that it just produces a runny nose). At this stage we simply have a novel flu strain that has killed less than 1% of the people killed by the "normal" seasonal flu virus, even though it is likely to cause a pandemic as it spreads worldwide. But pandemic does not mean lots of deaths.

Some argue that the second wave of the virus will probably be more virulent. However, the effect with most viruses is that they usually become less aggressive with time not more. Secondly, the problem with the efforts to trace the contacts of everybody with the virus (the containment strategy) is that it quickly becomes unmanageable. So why the containment strategy instead of a 'sustain' strategy that treats the Influenza A H1N1 virus as a normal, seasonal flu?

So why all the politics of fear? Why the big beatup that scares people by the medical authorities when they know that the Influenza A H1N1 virus is mild? Their responses are out of proportion to what is a virus with only low levels of virulence. Treating this as seasonal influenza seems a more appropriate current response.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:49 AM |