Why “mild pandemic” is an oxymoron and other thoughts on swine flu

By: September 24th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

Rising above rhetoric, invective, and government-speak surrounding swine flu, Larry Brilliant, M.D. writes a lovely post, “Love in the Time of Swine Flu: A Story in Three Acts,” for the Huffington Post, September 22, that helps put this matter into perspective.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite.

For those who give swine flu no respect:

“Swine flu is the Rodney Dangerfield of pandemics.”


“My colleagues call it a “mild pandemic” — an ironic oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp.” In ten years as a professor of epidemiology, I never saw the word “mild” and “pandemic” in the same paragraph…”

For those who pooh-pooh H1N1 just the usual flu:

“…this pandemic is less a danger to the health of any specific individual than it is to the public health of the nation and the world…It has a low case-fatality rate, but it is the fastest spreading disease and will ultimately infect the greatest number of people in recorded history. So make no mistake, this pandemic has the potential…to wreck havoc on our community, our society, our hospitals, and our economy and even, only a bit farther fetched, our national security.”

For those who can’t see what the fuss is all about:

“If the ‘normal, seasonal, yearly flu kills 35,000 Americans and between a quarter and half million people globally each year, how many may die if the ‘case-fatality rate’ were the same, but the number of people who catch this disease increases by ten fold? Best estimates today: we should expect that 2 to 3 billion worldwide will contract swine flu; and about 100 million Americans will be sick from it, depending on when vaccine is available. These 100 million Americans will be sick for about a week each, losing half-billion days of work or school. And those half billion days won’t be much fun at all, not at all.”

And for those who refuse vaccination because the symptoms are supposedly mild:

“But my swine flu was not a lovable affair, it was not a joke, and it was not ‘mild.’  I spent three nights of aches and pains, and chills and fever. My sheets were soaked with sweat and the sound of my teeth chattering kept me awake. I tried a hot bath in the middle of the night and was so weak I could hardly get out of tub unassisted. …No loving parent would ever want to spread this disease to his or her kids. If the sole reason to get vaccinated were to prevent my spreading this disease to my family and community, that alone would make getting vaccinated an easy choice for me.”

Coming soon by Dr. Brilliant on HuffPost: Act Two — the epidemiology of swine flu and its public health consequences and Act Three — a doctor’s advice to good friends on how to stay healthy and safe during the pandemic.

Follow Larry Brilliant, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/larrybrilliant.


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