How to Tell This Year's Flu Hysteria Is All Hype

January 19, 2018  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  New York Post

How to tell this year’s flu hysteria is all hype


Flu fear is in the air! Emergency rooms are swamped. Sore throat? Nasal congestion? Get thee to the hospital! Now!

We know we should believe this because the media tell us so.

The hype:

  • “Get Ready, Some Medical Experts Are Predicting the Worst Flu Season In History,” declares a CNBC headline.
  •  “Here’s Why the Flu Is Especially Bad This Year,” says Time.
  •  “Five Things You Should Know About This Year’s Very Bad Flu,” proclaims The Washington Post.
  •  We repeatedly hear of “deadly flu” and are told in dire terms that over 100 Americans have died from it as of Jan. 11.
  •  The anti-viral Tamiflu could be very helpful, but there are localized shortages. (Because of the hype, of course.)

The reality:

  •  For over a week now public-health officials have said the epidemic may already be peaking, and CDC data released Friday back that up. If true, this could be the mildest flu season in many years.
  •  Infections and deaths appear to be lower than those of the last two flu seasons and well below that of 2014-2015, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Curiously, hospitalizations are up. Right; because of panic.
  •  All human influenza is deadly; the CDC says there are 12,000 to 56,000 US flu deaths annually.
  •  As always, flu deaths this year are almost exclusively among the elderly, whose immune systems are weaker than those of younger people. Pediatric deaths reported by the CDC to date (30) appear lower than the two previous flu seasons and far lower than in 2014-2015 year. But even in that bad year, there were just 148.
  •  The worst flu in history, the “Spanish Flu” of 1918-19, would have killed over 2 million Americans adjusting for the current population.
  •  Tamiflu is almost worthless, apparently shaving about a third of a day off the illness.

Granted, very early on in this flu season there was some special cause for worry. In Australia, the flu vaccination appeared essentially a dud, providing protection for only about 10 percent of recipients. In the United States, that figure looks like about 30 percent, far below the usual coverage of 40 percent to 60 percent.

Moreover, the US flu season got off to a very early start. And it’s spread out more than normal, with states that the flu usually passes over fairly lightly nevertheless being struck. But these don’t appear to have an effect on the bottom line: sickness, hospitalizations and death.

So the media have had to play games. One trick is to publicize specific deaths that stand out precisely because they are so rare, as with the 21-year-old Pennsylvania bodybuilder whose death made world news. Do you think Britons would be reading about him if he died in a traffic accident?

Or the media find heart-tuggers like the sad death of a darling 10-year-old boy.

All that said, the low immunization rate of this year’s vaccine does shed important light on the antiquated system of trying to guess the most viral strains of next season’s epidemic to know which three or four to painstakingly grow, usually in eggs.

What’s needed is a universal vaccine that protects against a part of all flu viruses that never mutate. One vaccine and no risk of flu ever again. Clinical trials funded by Google have already begun.

Yet as Bryan Walsh at Bloomberg points out, citing an estimate by infectious-disease expert Michael Osterholm, the US government and industry spends between just $35 million and $40 million each year on universal flu vaccines, compared to the more than $1 billion a year that goes into HIV-vaccine research. And AIDS kills far fewer Americans than the mildest flu, less than 5,000 in the latest year.

So let’s set priorities rather than setting off panics.