Wednesday 13 May 2009

Swine flu - not gone away

Over the last few days, some of the initial alarm about swine flu has dissipated, but now scientists from Imperial College, London have suggested that one person in three across the world could catch it. So far we know of more than 5,720 confirmed cases in 33 countries, and 61 people have died. 56 of the deaths have happened in Mexico which has had 2,059 cases. The United States has had three deaths from more than 3,000 cases, while the UK has 68 cases and no deaths.

This suggests that the virus is behaving in a much more virulent way in Mexico, where about one person in every 40 infected is dying. In the USA, the rate is more like one in a thousand. Professor Neil Ferguson, the lead investigator, has pointed out that every year about one person in ten catches seasonal flu, and up to half a million die.

In Professor Ferguson’s view, we are not facing an epidemic on the scale of 1918, when perhaps 70 million people died across the world, but he thinks we could be in for one like 1957’s “Asian flu” which killed up to four million. Science has advanced enormously since then, and we have new vaccines and anti-viral drugs to defend us. On the other hand, globalisation will allow the virus to spread much further and faster, and if 2 billion people do indeed catch swine flu, we need to be braced for many deaths.

See also my blog of April 30th.

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