Archive for April, 2009

2009 Swine Flu vs. 1918 Spanish Flu

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27th, 2009 by Alex – 453 Comments

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about this “swine flu” from Mexico, and I’ve been hearing a lot of hype, especially with regard to the Spanish Flu, mixed in with the facts. Here’s what you need to know.

A(H1N1), the variety involved, was the same that caused the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic.

This is something the media’s been quick to jump on, but is not as big a concern as they’re making it out to be. A(H1N1) causes about 50% of influenza cases each year. Spanish Flu was just a small mutation of that strain, of which there are millions each year. Spanish Flu just happened to have the right combination to make it extremely deadly.

Those killed have been primarily young adults, as with Spanish Flu and other pandemic flus.

Also true. Pandemic flus have a tendency to create cytokine storms, which scientists studying the Spanish Flu have determined is how many young adults died of the disease. In a cytokine storm the immune system overreacts and pumps your body so full of cells to fight infection that it becomes unable to function, making a strong immune system a liability rather than a bonus. While we don’t have any wholly proven method to fight cytokine storms, we do have a few experimental drugs and techniques. If a pandemic were to break out, you can guarantee that with all these extra subjects research would find us a cure for this particular symptom quickly.

The mortality rate for Swine Flu has been extremely high, another hallmark of pandemic flu.

Kind of true. Preliminary reports suggest that 7% of the people who contract the swine flu die from it. For the record, the mortality rate of Spanish Flu was only 2.5%. Mexico isn’t exactly known for its heath care though, and in a city of 20 Million like Mexico City, it may be hard to track exactly how many people have actually been infected. They say only 2,000 have been sickened, though the actual number could be much higher. Most people who contract the flu don’t go to the hospital for it. If 6,000 people have actually contracted it, we’re looking at mortality of 2.5%, on par with Spanish Flu. If 150,000 have, we’re looking at normal mortality for influenza (.1%). In the locations where we have definitive answers as to how many have contracted the disease (such as the US, with 40 confirmed cases) there are no deaths from the same strain. This indicates one of two things: either Mexicans are especially susceptible to the disease, or the mortality rate has been overestimated.

During the Spanish Flu a ton of people died. This will happen if we have another pandemic.

Not necessarily. We have had massive advances in medicine since the Spanish Flu. As noted above many people died of cytokine storms; however many died of pneumonia and other secondary infections which are now curable. Symptoms too killed many while today we have the ability to alleviate them- some suffocated as their throats swelled while helpless doctors looked on, but nowadays we can provide drugs or as a last resort intubation until symptoms subside.

So yes, we should be vigilant. It is always a good idea to follow good hygiene, but beyond that, there is only a small cause for concern. Could there be a pandemic? Maybe. Will millions die? Highly unlikely. Millions could be sickened, but a week on the couch with a bucket and some daytime TV is what most of you would experience.

If you’ve been to Mexico lately (or had contact with someone who has) and you’re really, really sick, see a doctor. Otherwise, if you’re in a developed nation with a decent heath care system, you should be fine in a few days.