Virus researchers are now saying that it is likely that Swine Flu will go pandemic sometime over the next six to nine months. They predict that about a third of the population will contract the disease. That’s a lot of people. The population of the earth is currently about 6.77 billion, so they are predicting a mind-numbing two-and-a-quarter billion cases. Admittedly the vast majority of these cases will be relatively mild – ranging from a scratchy throat for a couple of days through to a week’s worth of misery.
It seems like the original death rate in Mexico was mostly artifact because of this. The vast majority of Mexicans infected with Swine Flu probably thought they had a bit of a cold and did nothing about it. Unlike us pampered westerners, the average Mexican does not have the luxury of seeing a doctor for anything less than dire illness. Thus the actual infection rate was vastly underestimated and the mortality, consequently, overestimated. Even now, the number of confirmed cases in Mexico probably mostly represents only those who became very unwell with the disease.
The World Health Organisation’s announcement put the potential pandemic in perspective:
“Prof Ferguson, who sits on the World Health Organisation’s emergency committee for the outbreak, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “This virus really does have full pandemic potential. It is likely to spread around the world in the next six to nine months and when it does so it will affect about one-third of the world’s population.
““To put that into context, normal seasonal flu every year probably affects around 10% of the world’s population every year, so we are heading for a flu season which is perhaps three times worse than usual – not allowing for whether this virus is more severe than normal seasonal flu viruses.”
“His study suggests swine flu could kill four in every 1,000 infected people.”
So. Three times more flu and about 10 times more deaths doesn’t sound so good. On the other hand, 33% infection and 0.4% mortality sounds way better than the New Zealand Pandemic planning scenario of 40% infectivity and 2% mortality. Even so, it will overwhelm our medical facilities, without a doubt. We will probably get off lightly this flu season, but the virus may hit us harder next year.
Based on the WHO estimates, we can expect 2.25 billion cases worldwide and amount 9 million deaths. In New Zealand that would be 1.4 million cases (mostly minor) and about 5,700 deaths (we normally have about 500 a year). That is considerably worse than the Hong Kong flu but no where near as bad as the 1918 Spanish flu.
I do not normally get the flu vaccine each year, as I view it as a bit of a waste of time for healthy people. I will be taking the Swine Flu vaccine when it becomes available.