Monday 6 July 2009

Swine flu v bird flu

Swine flu has now overtaken bird flu. We have had 262 deaths from bird flu (H5N1) against 382 from swine flu (H1N1). Bird flu remains far more virulent, with its 262 deaths coming from just 436 confirmed cases, while there have been nearly 90,000 cases of bird flu.

The World Health Organisation says that most people who catch swine flu can expect a mild infection from which they make a full recovery within a week, and that the main risk is to pregnant women or people with other health problems.

The virus has now spread to 100 countries, and there are some peculiarities in the figures. Argentina has had 26 deaths at a rate of about 1 for every 60 cases – the highest in the world. Mexico, where the disease first appeared, has suffered 119 deaths at about 1 in every 85 cases. The United States has the highest number of deaths – 170 – but the rate is only about 1 in 200 of those infected.

Europe has suffered much less so far. The UK has been worst hit with nearly 7,500 cases, but only four deaths – a rate of 1 in 1,875. However, the government is warning that by the end of next month, Britain could be seeing 100,000 new cases every day. Could that produce the same kind of devastating effect on public services that we saw in the great flu pandemic of 1918, when schools closed, fire stations had no firemen, buses stopped?

That epidemic was dubbed “Spanish flu”, because it was there that the world first became aware of the virus. This time around, Spain has had 760 cases and just one death. Even so, yesterday, the Spanish newspaper El Pais decided to publish the section on flu from my book A Disastrous History of the World. This is the link to the story:-

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