How bad will swine flu be, really?

The pendulum between panic and dismissal regarding H1N1 "swine" flu has swung back to panic.

The pendulum between panic and dismissal regarding H1N1 "swine" flu has swung back to panic.

Harold Varmus, who co-chairs the President's Council of Advisers on science and technology, turned the panic back on Monday, pushing a report that 90,000 Americans may die of the disease this coming winter.

Almost immediately the CDC called the figure overblown, but the estimate may be low if people won't take precautions or decide, as many have, that the vaccine is worse than the disease.

Normal, old-fashioned, run-of-the-mill seasonal flu kills 36,000 Americans each year, and people don't take that very seriously. Why worry about this one?

Especially since famous people like Landon Donovan (pictured) are apparently contracting, and recovering from this flu quite nicely?

Because if you don't, that 90,000 number will look low. The advice is to get the shot if you're eligible, to stay home at the first sign of symptoms, to wash your hands thoroughly at every opportunity, and (yes) to wear those stupid masks if you're in an outbreak zone.

How many people will do that? It just takes one idiot living in self-denial to spread this flu to an entire office building, subway system or school.

Another factor that could raise the toll exponentially is the over-use of anti-virals like Tamiflu. (Donovan was reportedly given a 10-day course of the stuff.) How many of those idiots you think will demand the anti-viral once they get out of self-denial? And stop taking it once they feel better? That can cause the flu to mutate into something even nastier.

I wish I could feel more hopeful about this, but let me leave you with some final points. This flu is more dangerous to the young than the middle-aged. You need to plan now to live later. Care cures and panic kills.

Good luck.


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