Monday, May 04, 2009

Dire warnings were premature, experts suggest

From the Houston Chronicle:

By the week’s end, an increasing number of experts were questioning whether it was overreaction.

“I don’t see anything to justify this panic,” said Robert Krug, a flu researcher at the University of Texas in Austin. “From all the evidence, this doesn’t look like a particularly lethal virus. People need a little more perspective.”

The perspective involves the seasonal patterns during which flu thrives and dies off, evidence that this virus lacks the kind of killer molecular features seen in some pandemics, cultural factors that could explain Mexico’s fatalities and the stark contrast between the annual U.S. toll from seasonal influenza and this outbreak’s mild severity.

More here.

I've been halfway expecting this.

Don't get me wrong. I think, as the experts quoted in the above linked article assert, that we're long overdue for some sort of nasty and lethal Michael Crichton style global pandemic. I worry about such things when I dwell on them too much. But I'm not worried about this weird Mexican swine flu.

Indeed, I might have even had it.

A while ago, maybe three weeks before the Mexico City epidemic made the news, I came down with what I thought at first was a nasty cold. After a few days of slugging through it, going to work, living my life and all that, I decided, based on the symptoms and how they seemed to be changing every couple of days, that I actually had the flu--colds tend to hit you with all their symptoms at once, while the flu seems to come in waves of different symptoms. But whatever. I've had much worse cases of flu over the years, so I just kept pushing through it. Probably infecting my coworkers, too, not to mention the customers I waited on, but the restaurant industry is traditionally skeptical of its waiters calling in sick, and I need the money, so what the hell. Within a week, I was pretty much over it, and that was that, I thought.

Two weeks after I had declared myself to be well, swine flu hit the headlines.

I may be a hypochondriac but I did not immediately decide that I had been sick with weird Mexican swine flu. It was only after reading about it, casually listening to NPR, watching excited reporters on CNN, that I started to speculate about my recent illness. I mean, everybody around the world was going "SWINE FLU! SWINE FLU! OH MY FUCKING GOD!" But when you examined actual details of the reporting, a story that stood in stark contrast the headlines began to emerge. An interview on Nightline with one of the teenagers in New York who had been infected was telling: the kid was like, "yeah, I felt sick and all, but it didn't really seem to be that big of a deal." Indeed, almost all swine flu cases in the US appear to be relatively mild. Some research doctors quoted on NPR speculated that the disease tends to weaken as it passes from human to human.

Then I heard the money quote, which is also mentioned in the Chronicle story: 35,000 Americans die every year from the flu. Not the dreaded weird Mexican swine flu. Tens of thousands in the US die from average ordinary seasonal influenza every season. The Mexican death toll hasn't even broken two hundred yet.

Add all that to the fact that within seventy two hours of the Mexican outbreak making the news, it was everywhere. Obviously, the dreaded weird Mexican swine flu has been around for a while longer than might seem apparent.

Anyway, back to me. It may very well be a coincidence that I had the flu right before swine flu became a big news story, but having it so late in the flu season is a bit weird--I usually get the flu during the winter, or at least, when it's still cold outside more often than not, early March at the latest. It may also be a coincidence that at my restaurant I have daily contact with Mexican nationals, who are both employees and customers. But you know. I started wondering if I was a part of the story, if lots and lots of people who were sick but thought nothing of it were also a part of the story.

Because I don't really care enough to hassle with a doctor, I'll probably never know for sure. But one thing about which I am becoming increasingly certain is that the Great Weird Mexican Swine Flu Pandemic of 2009 is a bust.

That's probably a good thing.