NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 6, 2009

In response to the growing spread of swine flu across the globe, the World Health Organization has raised its alert level to 5, indicating it believes a pandemic is "imminent."  But as American Council on Science and Health's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan says, "we need to put this situation in perspective by remembering that the United States has over 30,000 deaths every year from seasonal influenza."

Only Mexico has thus far reported significant numbers of sick and dead -- and even those numbers are in flux, probably due to inadequate data reporting and collection in the rural areas.  The one U.S. mortality, a 23-month-old, occurred when the infant was brought here from Mexico for treatment. 

As the epicenter of the outbreak, Mexico is right to take precautions like ordering the closure of many public services and private businesses until Tuesday.  But many other countries are taking drastic and unnecessary steps in the name of "protecting" their citizens, says Whelan:

  • Egypt has ordered the country's 300,000 pigs slaughtered, even though swine flu has not appeared there and there is no evidence that pigs spread the disease.
  • Many nations have (unnecessarily) restricted the imports of pork products and live pigs, while others are imposing bans on travel to Mexico.
  • Despite initial reports, the new strain of swine flu appears to be a re-assortment of two pig viruses and doesn't contain human or avian components.
  • While it's good that the virus is being thoroughly studied, ACSH doubts this information will help the general public protect themselves or avoid panic.

Moreover, ACSH says that while the swine flu has the potential to become an historic pandemic, the possibility appears less likely as the data continue to accumulate.  There seems not to be the kind of exponential increase of number of infections that sometimes occurs, for example, with norovirus infections.

Source: Elizabeth Wade, "Flu Reactions, Statin Benefits, Acrylamide Scares," American Council on Science and Health, April 30, 2009.

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