Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Swine Flu Pan(dem)ic?

According to Mexican sources, as of Wednesday evening Japan Time, the number of suspected deaths from swine flu reached 149 (152?) out of 1,600 cases reported. Meanwhile, in the United States, 42 cases had been reported, only one of which required hospitalization. Other cases have been reported in Latin Ameerica, Canada, New Zealand, and Europe, most notably in Spain, but story remains the same: no deaths outside of Mexico.

You wonder if God has anything against Mexicans. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I can think of four plausible causes:

a) Serious underreporting of nonlethal cases in Mexico.
b) Poor treatment in Mexico.
c) Misattribution of deaths to swine flu in Mexico.
d) Misattribution of illnesses to swine flu outside of Mexico.

There must be other, equally sensible if less probable explanations. What do you think? In the meantime, if you are interested, read this. And this.


Jan Moren said...

The by far most likely explanation is a variant of (a): It's flu season, and until people started noticing a greater than expected number of fatalities among otherwise healthy patients, nobody had any reason to suspect it was anything but the normal seasonal flu.

There is a great underreporting of cases, in other words, but not because of incompetence or as a cover-up, but simply because there was no reason to look for anything different.

It's quite likely the outbreak has lasted for weeks or longer before anybody determined this was something new. The current lethality for this disease is consequently likely not high. THat can change, of course.

Jun Okumura said...

Janne: I knew you'd be coming in with something useful on this. If I had to choose, I would agree with you. That would mean that the current strain of swine flu is more contagious but less lethal than the Mexican numbers suggest.

Joe said...

I read an article at Slate a couple of days ago ( that mentioned some of the same possibilities that you did. I think it's a combination of factors, especially it being peak flu season, and the poor data collection going on in Mexico. Hopefully it is not quite as bad as the mainstream media is making it out to be

Jun Okumura said...

I agree, Joe. To pick an example that I’m aware of personally, the air quality in Mexico City must have something to do with it too.

I think that the best way to keep things in perspective is to watch the numbers and compare them to other major causes of death. Being careful doesn’t mean we have to stop living our lives the way we are accustomed to.