I suspect, like me, you have been alarmed by the media’s coverage of the swine flu scare. Yet, by Tuesday I couldn’t help but wonder: ‘Haven’t we heard these noises before? Avian Flu, SARS, Norovirus … What happened to all of those?
Don’t get me wrong, of course we should take these things seriously. But a pandemic? Really?
How not to deal with Swine Flu
This isn’t the first time the public has been warned about swine flu. The last time was in February 1976. An outbreak of swine flu struck Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey in the US, killing a 19-year-old private and infecting hundreds of soldiers.
Concerned that the US was on the verge of a devastating epidemic, President Gerald Ford ordered a nationwide vaccination programme at a cost of $135 million (some $500 million in today’s money). Within weeks, reports surfaced of people developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing nerve disease that can be caused by the vaccine.
Claims totalling $1.3 billion were filed by victims who had suffered paralysis from the vaccine.
By April 1976, more than 30 people had died of Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Facing protests, federal officials abruptly cancelled the programme in December that same year. The epidemic failed to materialize.
My guess is that you can expect to see a lot of panic over this issue in the near future. But the key is to remain calm and informed…
A bit of perspective
It is very difficult to forecast a pandemic, and an inflammatory response can be extremely damaging.
On Monday 27 April, the worldwide total number of confirmed cases of Swine Flu was 82, according to World Health Organization (WHO). This included 40 cases in the US, confirmed by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC). Let’s look again: 82… Does that really warrant the feverish news headlines?
Malaria kills 3,000 people EVERY DAY, and it’s considered ‘a health problem’… Is this because there are no fancy vaccines for malaria that can rake in billions in a short amount of time?
Do you remember when President George Bush warned that 2 million Americans would die as a result of bird flu… We’re still waiting…
What is Swine Flu?
Regular swine flu is a contagious respiratory disease, caused by a type-A influenza virus that affects pigs. The current strain, A(H1N1), is a new variation of an H1N1 virus – which causes seasonal flu outbreaks in humans – it also contains genetic material of bird and pig versions of the flu.
This version has never before been seen in neither human nor animal and the symptoms are:
- Fever of more than 100
- Runny nose and/or sore throat
- Joint aches
- Severe headache
- Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- Lack of appetite
This does sound bad. But hold on, don’t run for the hills, or worse, for the Tamiflu vaccine yet.
Why is a pandemic unlikely?
All H1N1 viruses are descendants (mutations) of the 1918 flu pandemic strain. It is due to these mutations that the flu shot may or may not work, from year to year. Therefore, there’s no vaccine available for this current hybrid flu strain, and naturally, this is feeding the fear that millions of people will die before a vaccine can be made.
Let’s remind ourselves of one very important fact: recently scientists concluded that the 1918 flu pandemic that killed between 50-100 million people worldwide in a matter of 18 months – which all our current worst case scenarios are built upon – was NOT due to the flu itself! Instead, the real culprit was strep infections: People with influenza often get what is known as a “super infection” with a bacterial agent. In 1918 it appears to have been Streptococcus pneumonia.
Why do I mention this? Simply because the world has changed since 1918.
For a ‘bird flu’ or ‘swine flu’ to turn into a human pandemic, it has to find an environment that favours both deadly virulence and ease of transmission. People living in squalor on the Western Front at the end of World War I generated such an environment, from which the epidemic of 1918 arose. (Latest reports coming from Mexico have linked the current outbreak to a local Pork packing plant and poor hygiene standards there.)
Likewise, crowded chicken farms, slaughterhouses, and jam-packed markets of eastern Asia provide another such environment, and that environment gave rise to the bird flu – a pathogen that both kills and spreads, in birds, but not in humans.
Despite the fantastic headlines and projections of MILLIONS of deaths, the H5N1 bird flu virus killed a mere 257 people worldwide since late 2003. As unfortunate as those deaths are, 257 deaths worldwide from any disease, over the course of five years, simply does not constitute an emergency worthy of much attention, let alone fear!
As the numbers of confirmed swine flu cases are released, keep a level head and don’t let fear run away with your brains.
Let’s look at the numbers released over the past week
According to the World Health Organization’s Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response site as of April 27, there are:
- 64 laboratory confirmed cases in U.S. – 0 deaths (latest reports show 1 death in Texas)
- 26 confirmed cases in Mexico – 7 deaths
- 6 confirmed cases in Canada – 0 deaths
- 2 confirmed case in Spain – 0 deaths
- 2 confirmed in Britain – 0 deaths (in fact they have been discharged from hospital)
- 3 confirmed in New Zealand – 0 deaths
A member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has dismissed claims that more than 150 people have died from swine flu, saying it has officially recorded only seven deaths around the world.
Vivienne Allan, from WHO’s patient safety programme said: ‘Unfortunately that [150-plus deaths] is incorrect information and it does happen, but that’s not information that’s come from the World Health Organisation.’
Additionally, nearly all suspected new cases have been reported as mild.
What about Tamiflu?
So far, swine flu only responds to the vaccine Tamiflu. (Of which there are stockpiles all over the world. Aren’t we lucky? As if someone knew this was going to happen…)
But don’t be fooled (again). Tamiflu will only (possibly) relieve the symptoms of swine flu. It won’t protect you against it. Remember swine flu is a mutation, it’s not been seen before so there cannot be a vaccine against it…
Tamiflu went through some rough times not too long ago, as the dangers of this drug came to light when, in 2007, the FDA finally began investigating some 1,800 adverse event reports related to the drug. Common side effects of Tamiflu include:
All in all, these are the very symptoms you’re trying to avoid.
More serious symptoms included convulsions, delirium or delusions, and 14 deaths in children and teens as a result of neuropsychiatric problems and brain infections (which led Japan to ban Tamiflu for children in 2007). And that’s for a drug that, when used as directed, only reduces the duration of influenza symptoms by 1 to 1 ½ days, according to the official data.
But making matters worse, some patients with influenza are at HIGHER risk for secondary bacterial infections when on Tamiflu. And secondary bacterial infections, as I mentioned earlier, was likely the REAL cause of the mass fatalities during the 1918 pandemic!
Let’s get cynical
It is almost three years since the hysteria over a bird flu epidemic swept the world. Our governments then bought billions of dollars of Tamiflu. The shelf life of Tamiflu happens to be three years.
Three years after the unsuccessful bird flu pandemic, and guess what? Along trots her ugly sister: swine flu.
Handy! Let’s shift those stockpiles of Tamiflu before its ‘Best Before Date’. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s order more stock from the manufacturers, just to keep the ‘good’ business flowing…
Is it just me or is it a wicked old world?
‘Critical Alert: The Swine Flu Pandemic – Fact or Fiction?’ by Dr. Mercola, published online 29.04.09, articles.mercola.com
‘How to Deal with Swine Flu: Heeding the Mistakes of 1976’ By Eben Harrell, published online 27.04.09, time.com
‘Swine flu alert clears old stock of Tamiflu’ published online 30.04.09, wddty.com
‘How Many People Have Died of Swine Flu So Far?’ published online 30.04.09, cynical-c.com