Southeast Missouri State University

Swine Flu in Perspective

John Casebolt

The recent bout of the A(H1N1) virus, also known as the dreaded Swine Flu, has many people worried about massive infections and fatalities worldwide. The news even made V.P. Biden a bit apprehensive. The Washington Post reported that over 700 schools across the nation have closed in the past week to prevent further spreading of the virus.

With all the hype in the news, let’s put this outbreak into a little perspective. Granted the need to be aware of potential risks is the key to preventing a crisis similar to the 1918-1919 influenza outbreak that claimed an estimated 50 million lives worldwide.  Notice the website points out that WWI only claimed about 16 million lives. The extra precautions, especially in an interconnected, globalized world, have helped lower the number of cases, but we must not overreact.

Former Senator Chuck Hagel weighed in on the problem at an address at CSIS this week noting, “every problem is a global Problem.”  However, I would like to point out that the level of infections and deaths associated with H1N1 and the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 (especially when compared to the rate of auto accidents and fatalities for 2003) show the virus to be relatively tame . Currently the WHO reports 1,893 H1N1 cases in 23 countries with 31 fatalities (Mexico 29, USA 2). The WHO also reports that between November 2002 and July 2003 there were 8098 cases of SARS in 26 countries with 774 deaths.  While these numbers are tragic for those affected, they are still small considering there are over 6,000,000,000 people on the planet. To put this into context of safety, consider that there are just over 300 million people in America and in 2003 alone there were over 6 million auto accidents resulting in roughly 2.9 million injuries and over 42,000 fatalities.

I think the fear of any virus is in the unknown and unseen. We can see and understand an auto accident (hopefully, before it happens). We can’t see a virus, and until someone is really feeling ill, we cannot tell who has it. The best thing to remember is use common sense and check out this information from the CDC. Keep things in perspective.