Global’s Update – 07/13/10

The WHO Pandemic Alert level remains at Phase 6

Influenza A (H1N1) Cases and Deaths*

*Cases reported by The World Health Organization (WHO) are as July 4, 2010

Study reminds us why H1N1 deserved our undivided attention

In a study published by British medical journal Thorax, scientists have claimed that more than half of those who died in Britain from H1N1 infection were healthy people with no pre-existing health conditions. This probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to any one who has followed the pandemic story, but now there is a peer-reviewed study making the claim in no uncertain terms. What is significant, and perhaps novel about the study is that it provides a verifiable historical document that supplies context for the world’s response to the outbreak in the spring of 2009. Over half of all H1N1 deaths were young, healthy people with no reason to succumb so catastrophically to the flu. At that point the virus hadn’t spread throughout the general population, and health care providers were left to extrapolate what the situation might look like months down the road. Nobody knew yet exactly how widespread the infections had gotten, what we did know was that the critically ill in hospitals were the people we expected to be the most resistant.

In this light, it is easy to see why health officials were alarmed and the media, perhaps forgivably, began to resemble Chicken Little. If the disease can so easily strike down the young and the healthy, the numbers may get really bad later.

They did get worse, the flu did claim some of the older and the immuno-compromised, but no more than the seasonal flu. The casualty rate began to plateau. That’s when the true epidemiological nature of the virus emerged and the cries of conspiracy and fake pandemic started to arise. Perhaps this is forgivable too; even if it was as wrongheaded as the media’s shrill, saturation coverage of a virus that had not –yet anyway– earned that kind of attention.

What is troubling is that many of those decrying the World Health Organization’s and others’ pandemic response, public officials, should know better. They received regular briefings from their own advisors and health authorities, experts with no agenda other than public safety, that urged them to heed the WHO’s guidance. When we review the pandemic and glean the lessons to be learned from it, it’s important that we do so with a clear-eyed view of the past and not get caught up in the political fashion of the moment. Reuters

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