Sunday, July 05, 2009

Swine flu...

You know, in some countries there's major paranoia about swine flu. Don't go out, buy tamiflu, buy masks, cancel schools and large events, impose mandatory vacations, etcetera. Is that reaction reasonable? Let's see...

  • This article states there have been 263 deaths due to swine flu in the world so far.
  • This other article states there are ~1 million infected people. Half of world infections are in the US, and therefore, there must be ~2 million infected people in the world.
What's the morbidity rate so far? 0.01315%. In other words, the odds of death by swine flu are 1 in ~7605. Well. How does that compare to other risks we take everyday?
  • Risk of death in a motor vehicle accident in the US during 1 year, 1 in ~6500 (source, 2005).
  • Risk of death due to intentional self-harm during 1 year, 1 in ~9100 (source, 2005).
  • Lifetime risk of death due to intentional self-harm, 1 in 121 (source).
  • Lifetime risk of death due to natural forces (heat, cold, storms, quakes, etc), 1 in ~3350 (source).
  • Lifetime risk of death due to electrocution, 1 in 5000 (source).
So, really, if you don't care about just one of the above, you cannot possibly worry about swine flu right now. Here are some far more serious illnesses with their yearly mortality rates.
Do you hear about those in the news? Should we shut down the piercing and tattoo industry to stop the spread of hepatitis C? And how about this?
  • Lifetime risk of maternal death in developed nations, 1 in 2800 (source).
You better cancel those plans to have children, because it's ~1.3 times more likely that you will die due to giving birth than due to swine flu.

Seriously. Do you worry about any of these things as much as you have panicked about swine flu? Most likely, no. Then, knock it off with the fear already! At least, do the responsible diligence of monitoring swine flu's mutations without seeing death around every corner.


jarober said...

The only concern to have about Swine flu is a future one. If it's easily spread (and it seems to be), and it mutates in the fall (the real flu season), then a problem could arise.

Even so, there's nothing an individual can do about that, so the level of worry probably falls into "something to talk about if nothing else comes to mind" at a party...

Rob Vens said...

Right on...! And thank you for gathering some statistical references.

Bob said...

Those other stats are for steady state conditions... H1N1 is a dynamic system: the concern is not about today's numbers, but what can happen tomorrow. The stats could get deadly. Individually there is little value worrying, but I'm glad that the powers that be are keeping a eye on this.

Andres said...

Bob, like I said, there's no need for panic *right now*. Also, note that the world is not e.g.: the US. For example, there's plenty of (what I think is baseless) paranoia going on in Argentina right now.

The general issue is best described by the saying "I have known many great problems, most of which never happened".