Swine Flu Bad News—and Good

The Los Angeles Times today says that there may be indications that swine flu symptoms in those Americans infected are becoming more severe.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the virus may not be a very fast spreader:

[T]he CDC reported on its website that “a pattern of more severe illness associated with the virus may be emerging in the United States.”

“We expect to see more cases, more hospitalizations, and, unfortunately, we are likely to see more deaths from the outbreak,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters Wednesday on her first day at work.

But certainly nothing that would dwarf a typical flu season. In the U.S., between 5% and 20% of the population becomes ill and 36,000 people die — a mortality rate of between 0.24% and 0.96%.

Dirk Brockmann, a professor of engineering and applied mathematics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., used a computer model of human travel patterns to predict how this swine flu virus would spread in the worst-case scenario, in which nothing is done to contain the disease.

After four weeks, almost 1,700 people in the U.S. would have symptoms, including 198 in Los Angeles, according to his model. That’s just a fraction of the county’s thousands of yearly flu victims.

Just because the virus is being identified in a growing number of places — including Austria, Canada, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, Spain and Britain — doesn’t mean it’s spreading particularly quickly, Olsen said.

Wash your hands frequently and slow this thing down more. By taking simple precautions we might collectively, as it were, be tapping on the brakes of this pandemic.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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