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CDC tacitly admits swine flu dramatically less severe than seasonal flu

By Michael Fumento

In my "Pandemic over a Piglet" article at Forbes.com May 15, I challenged both assertions of the WHO-backed authors in Science magazine, that swine flu was both more severe and more contagious than seasonal flu. I noted that the very evidence they gave showed the opposite. It was quite simply a dishonest article. Now there's even more evidence as to swine flu severity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have probably been more than 100,000 infections, with only five U.S. deaths. Seasonal flu has a death rate of about one per thousand or 100 per 100,000. So swine flu's death rate at this point is 5% that of seasonal flu.

So much for the next "Spanish Flu" - more like the next severe cold.

May 18, 2009 05:51 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

How accurate is the CDC's seasonal flu death estimate?

By Michael Fumento

All health agencies tend to exaggerate the threat of anything within their ambit, whether it's numbers or overall severity as we're currently seeing with the WHO and its threats to declare swine flu a pandemic. That's in addition to including with their ambit that which clearly doesn't belong, such as the CDC expanding into gun deaths and divorce.

For this reason, numbers coming from outside of the agencies and their officials tend to be more reliable. A 2008 study by Foppa and Hossain in Emerging Themes in Epidemiology analyzed data from 1995 to 2005 and comes up with an annual average of 23,710 U.S. seasonal flu deaths. By coincidence, until fairly recently, the CDC used a range of 24,000 to 36,000.

That said, Dushoff and others in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2006 said the CDC figure was too low. Analyzing data from 1979 to 2001, they found an annual average of 41,400.

It would be interesting for somebody to contrast their methodologies. My gut feeling is that the CDC figure is too high, but gut feelings in science are for leads and not for conclusions.

All this said, when it comes to swine flu comparisons there isn't one.

The widely-used estimate for the U.S. seasonal flu death rate is one per one thousand infections (0.1%), though the CDC, using in part it's 36,000 death estimate, employs a range of 0.06% to 0.24%. Currently three Americans have died out of 4,298 "confirmed and probable cases," all of whom were chronically ill, for a rate of 0.07% without even counting hidden infections. (The "fourth" U.S. case was a Mexican national who sickened there and died under treatment here.)

But with any flu, each confirmed case represents many milder or even asymptomatic hidden infections. Indeed, despite its alarmist theme, the Ferguson et al. paper in Science magazine, prepared under the auspices of the WHO, says Mexico apparently has had hundreds of undetected infections for each confirmed swine flu case. Thus to peek below the tip of the swine flu iceberg would be to find the U.S. death rate dramatically lower than that of seasonal flu.

May 14, 2009 10:04 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

More Evidence the People Aren't Buying Official Pig Panic Scenario

By Michael Fumento

The BBC reports Brits are having "swine flu parties," along the lines of chickenpox parties in which kids are intentionally exposed rather than grow up and catch chicken pox as an adult when it's far more dangerous. These flu get-togethers, though, are probably based on the fallacy that, come the cold season, the virus could be more severe. It won't be, though cold weather does usually make a flu or cold virus more contagious. That said, if there is an explosion of infections come autumn and winter, your child does have a better chance of getting good medical health now. I don't really know what to make of these things.

May 14, 2009 01:13 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

Pig Pandemic Panic Purveyors Looking Pathetic

By Michael Fumento

Sorry bad guys, other than filling hospitals with worried well, which only takes a small portion of the population, the fear fomenting doesn't seem to be working this time around. A new poll indicates that fewer than a third of U.S. adults would get a shot especially made to protect against swine flu virus, and only 18 percent said the disease is a severe threat.

Now how could they possibly think that after all the devastation wrought by heterosexual AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and avian flu? Oh.

May 14, 2009 12:02 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

Three Cheers for Pandemic Panic?

By Michael Fumento

The usually reasonable Washington Post and Slate columnist Anne Applebaum has gone hysterical over the swine flu hysteria.

"Where infectious diseases are concerned, panic is good. Panic is what we want," she writes. "Without panic, nothing happens. Up to 500 million people will get malaria this year, and more than 1 million of them will die, mostly in very poor countries. Yet there is no fear of malaria in the rich world; there is no hysterical media coverage, and thus there is still no satisfactory prevention or cure."

The reason malaria has always been shortchanged is precisely because of contagious disease panic - other contagious diseases. Many years ago I was writing that AIDS hysteria was draining off fantastic sums of money from both malaria and tuberculosis. There will never be a panic over malaria and TB, hence those diseases will never get the kind of funding they would in a sane world.

Apple also uses the last refuge of the contagious disease panic-monger, that the virus may not be bad in its present form but it could change to be worse. With that attitude, nobody should ever get married because. After all, your would-be spouse may be the greatest human being on the planet now but develop a really nasty personality over time.

Swine flu is no more likely to mutate into a more contagious or severe form than is any of the numerous strains of seasonal flu that go around every year. Why don't we just have an annual flu panic every November?

Applebaum concludes by praising that "brief, possibly ludicrous but nevertheless useful moment of mass hysteria that brought us such terrific headlines over the past couple of weeks."

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, there was never a good hysteria or bad period of rationality. Panics are psychologically costly, economically costly, and can induce complacency when a real problem comes along. They often lead to the seeking out and punishment of scapegoats. Even today, in some countries, "witches" and "sorcerers" are burned.

One particular aspect of this panic has been the overrunning of hospitals, in which the truly ill are forced to wait behind the worried well who have a sniffle, some coughing, and the occasional desire to oink. Here are excerpts from an e-mail I received today.

I am a nurse at an emergency room in central Texas. The week of April 26 through May 2 was the busiest week for our ER, ever. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday were the top four days on record for individual visits at our facility. Almost all of the excess business was due to people who thought they had flu. On Thursday, we saw 372 patients; more than double the normal load for an April 30th. Number of positive flu tests: 12. Number of positive swine flu tests: 0. Number of positive swine flu tests in our county (so far): 1 . . . The economic consequences are undeniable.

He goes on:

If the media is either directly or indirectly encouraging people to go to the ER, they are actually causing them to be exposed to more virulent diseases. On April 30, about 200 people came into our ER because they thought they had flu. 12 actually did; 188 had colds, allergies, or were not sick at all Meanwhile, they exposed themselves to people who had some really infectious conditions.

"I saw people with MRSA, Streptococcus, Pertussis, C. difficile, conjunctivitis, impetigo, scabies, and flu,” he says, with the worried well sitting among them for three hours. If the media even notice, I doubt the sudden uptick in disease will be tied to the swine flu hysteria."

Joseph Feather
Round Rock, TX.

I don't doubt that he's right.

May 12, 2009 05:53 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

Yes, I'm writing about the Science mag pandemic panic piece

By Michael Fumento

Bottom Line: If you look at the actual numbers and ignore the spin, the data are actually reassuring. They show a virus both less contagious and less severe than seasonal flu. But that requires actually reading the study and its citations, not just the abstract and press release. What self-respecting reporter would do that? Why would one want to when it's fear, not facts, that sell.

It also helps to know the paper was written under the auspices of the planet's chief chicken little, the WHO.

May 12, 2009 11:22 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

Denial of Harm Equals Big Tobacco

By Michael Fumento

Under the subject line of "Hexavaent Chromium" (it's "hexavalent") Nancy [omitted] wrote:

Dear Mr.Fumento,

I am researching the P G & E/Hinkley, California case and have read some of your writings. As long as you short cut and use information provided by P G & E scientists, physicians and their reports to back your 'facts' you will always come out suspect. For years, the tobacco industry claimed through their scientist and doctors that smoking in no way caused cancer, we now know they were wrong. Surveys have been done that have indicated that for enough money there are many doctors and scientists who will 'sell' themselves and print whatever is wanted by those providing the money.

An interested law student

My response:

I didn't use any information from PG & E scientists. Consult my articles on my website. And please, stop with the tobacco comparisons. Just because somebody somewhere says their product isn't as dangerous as others claim it is doesn't make them another BIG TOBACCO. I insist that reading my material won't make you go blind. Does that put me on par with the makers of Camel cigarettes?

Well, maybe you shouldn't answer that.

Also, please learn how to use quotation marks if you are to join the legions of tort lawyers.

Swine Flu Also Proving Far Less Harmful than Seasonal Flu

By Michael Fumento

Initial reports seemed to indicate swine flu was both vastly more contagious and more lethal than seasonal flu. You don't get headlines like: "Bug Outbreak Will Kill Millions Scientist Warns" and "Pandemic Could Kill Up To 120 Million, Warn Experts" for nothing, nor over 300 million references as of May 5 when entering "swine flu" into the Google News search engine. In an earlier blog, I noted that it appears the new flu is far less contagious than the old. But how dangerous is the virus itself?

"What the epidemiologists are seeing now with this particular strain of [swine flu]," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday, "is that the severity of the disease . . . is not stronger than regular seasonal flu."

In fact, swine flu is considerably less severe. Here's how we know.

There are no good data on Mexican cases or deaths and at any rate flu deaths are much higher in underdeveloped countries. It seems only now the media are catching onto the link between poverty and illness.

Our chief concern, naturally, is the U.S, and here we do have good data.

Seasonal flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has a death rate between 0.06% and 0.24%. (Others put the figure in the middle at about 0.1%.) The Agency derives its figure from the ratio of estimated annual infections 15 to 60 million to that of the estimated 36,000 deaths.

As this is written, the CDC reports about 400 swine flu cases with no American deaths. (The one death attributed to the U.S. was a Mexican national who sought help here after becoming sick at home.) Therefore, so far we have a denominator but no numerator.

So to provide a numerator, let's assume for sake of argument that one American dies right now. We would therefore have a death rate of 0.25%. That's at the top end of the CDC's seasonal flu range, right? Wrong. Remember, the death rate isn't calculated per case, it's per infection. And we know that most flu infections are too mild for people to seek medical help and hence become part of any database. So how can we figure out how many U.S. swine flu infections there might be? By reference to seasonal flu.

Because seasonal flu is not on the list of nationally notifiable diseases, that must come from information gathered by the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System. Sentinel laboratories across the nation collect suspect blood samples and forward them to these agencies, which forward their findings to the CDC.

This past flu season, detected flu infections were about 40,000. That's our number of confirmed cases. Divide that 40,000 into the CDC estimate of 15 to 60 million U.S. infections and you get a ratio of confirmed cases to unidentified infections of 375 to 1,300 to one.

During a period of heightened alertness you'd expect a lot more people to see a doctor, thus causing this ratio to drop. But even if it were just 100 to one, the U.S. swine flu death rate (again, assuming somebody dies right now) would be 0.0025% - vastly below that of seasonal flu. If ten Americans suddenly dropped dead, it would be 0.025% - still vastly lower than the seasonal flu rate.

And after having 400 cases with no fatalities, it's a calculated bet that ten Americans aren't about to drop dead.

May 5, 2009 12:35 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

Early Calculations Show Swine Flu Hard to Transmit

By Michael Fumento

It SEEMS like swine flu isn't particularly infectious by looking at case numbers and consulting news stories that continue to find a strong link to Mexico. But there's a scientific way of measuring using what's called a "basic reproductive number."

That essentially means the measure of how many secondary cases a typical patient will cause in a population with no immunity to the pathogen. Keep in mind that as an epidemic progresses, the number drops because the pathogen finds fewer and fewer susceptible victims. That's why all epidemics can be roughly plotted on the shape of a bell curve. (When I wrote that about U.S. AIDS epidemic, I was called a fruitcake. AIDS subsequently followed the shape of a bell curve.)

The director of Mexico's National Center for Epidemiology and Disease Control, told the Washington Post "According to the preliminary models, the reproductive number that we have in the Mexico City metropolitan area is 1.5," noting, "It's a number fairly low, and that's good news."

Indeed for SARS, which caused only 8096 cases and 774 deaths over a period of about 170 days (115 cases and 4.5 deaths per day), the figure was 3.0.

For other contagious diseases, according to the CDC, it's vastly higher: 6-7 for diphtheria, 12-18 for measles, 4-7 for mumps, and 6-7 for Rubella.

Most importantly for our purposes the basic reproductive number for seasonal flu seems to range from 1.5 to 3.0. (Although you do see much higher numbers.)

That means no swine flu pandemic. The WHO can label it a pandemic; they can also label it a wombat. But because it won't begin to approach the severity of worldwide seasonal flu (700 - 1,400 deaths daily, it will not be a pandemic. Flu pandemics are supposed to be MORE severe than typical flu years, not far less.

And that's the end of it, right? Not necessarily. And here's where you see a difference between the know-it-all alarmists and a careful anti-alarmist.

Flu, like polar bears and penguins, loves cold weather. It's no more dangerous then, but spreads far more easily. If swine flu is still bouncing around in October, it will probably spread far more efficiently and quite possibly at the same rate as seasonal flu - though there's no reason to think it will be any higher.

That's why I called for making swine flu one of the strains in the annual seasonal flu vaccine. Unfortunately, that vaccine is already being grown in a laborious process using chicken eggs.

So the WHO and the CDC must decide whether swine flu merits the expensive creation of a whole separate vaccine, perhaps with a relatively new process using cell cultures instead of eggs. Considering how much money the U.S. threw away on pandemic avian flu ($5.6 billion; worldwide daily average of zero cases and zero deaths), it seems at this point they probably should.

May 3, 2009 04:17 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

Mexico's Devastating Failure to Compare Swine Flu to Seasonal Flu

By Michael Fumento

To provide necessary perspective on the swine flu, I've noted that in the U.S. for each day of the seasonal flu season there are about 800 hospitalizations and 200 deaths. Worldwide, there about 700 -1,400 seasonal flu deaths spread out over the whole year. But what about the epicenter of the problem, Mexico itself?

The director of epidemiology and disease control for the Mexican Health Ministry, told the Washington Post that during the last flu season of October - March, there were 7,000 cases there - or about 38 cases per day. But that's clearly the result of a lousy reporting system, since Mexico's population at 109 million is slightly over a third that of the U.S.

Making the absurdly conservative assumption that Mexicans die of seasonal flu at no higher rate than Americans, they should have suffered about 65 DEATHS alone per day of seasonal flu. At last count, according to the WHO, all of 37 Mexicans have died of swine flu.

By failing to get out these numbers, and leaving the job to some gringo named Michael Fumento, Mexico has terrified its citizenry and wreaked havoc on its economy. Que lastima!

May 3, 2009 01:37 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

Swine Flu Data Have Panic Purveyors Scared

By Michael Fumento

One blog site, Effect Measure, part of a consortium called "Science Blogs," that had long warned of the inevitable utter devastation of pandemic avian flu - and condemned my "rantings that bird flu was a "Chicken Little" story - quickly latched onto swine flu as its substitute. Now, bitterly disappointed by the realization that tens of millions of people are not going to die, it's telling readers to ignore the swine flu data in favor of heart-rending anecdotes. Very scientific!

"As this outbreak moves forward we will be barraged by numbers and statistics. This is a form of spectator sport to which we have become accustomed," it states. "As the late epidemiologist [and alarmist] Irving Selikoff once remarked about the horrific toll of asbestos victims, 'death statistics are people with the tears wiped away.'"

And non-death statistics are cause for mourning.

May 2, 2009 04:11 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Bloggers ~ Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)

So just how lethal is swine flu?

By Michael Fumento

The latest WHO update show 15 countries have officially reported 615 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection, or 218 outside of Mexico. Yet only Mexicans have died (16 in Mexico, 1 of a Mexican who sought treatment in the U.S.) BUT now there's been a case in Hong Kong, meaning the flu will soon hit the mainland of the world's largest underdeveloped country. When that happens, you can expect to see many more deaths - and a media that insists on using worldwide fatalities as "THE death rate" for swine flu. Never mind that as is the case for seasonal flu, avian flu, AIDS, and other infectious diseases, and as was the case for SARS, a world rate for either cases or deaths is worthless - except to promote panic, of course.

May 2, 2009 11:16 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer) ~ Media