Just how serious is this flu epidemic?

There’s been a big shift over the past couple of days that play out this flu as probably not that different than any other flu. This was posted on “The News“:

The nation began a five-day shutdown Friday to contain the deadly swine flu epidemic as officials offered more hopeful signs that the virus may be abating. But as the news took a more optimistic tone, some citizens wondered if the government had overreacted to the outbreak, needlessly frightening the public and bruising the economy. Health Secretary José Angel Córdova said Friday that his office had confirmed 16 deaths and 397 infections from the virus, up from the 12 deaths and 312 infections reported a day before. But he also said that the nation’s public hospitals admitted just 46 patients with severe flu symptoms on Thursday, down from 212 patients on April 20.

“These are encouraging numbers that make us think that, fortunately, the virus isn’t so aggressive,” Córdova said at a press conference. Reduced public activity and quick treatment are proving effective in stopping the spread of the virus, he said. “If treatment is given the first day [of diagnosis], the patient is practically no longer a transmitter,” he said.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said Friday that the restrictions are working. “Individuals and families have been taking these measures very seriously and, as a result, we have had timely and early detection of cases of respiratory illnesses that could be of this type,” he said. “This has led us to a situation where the numbers are getting better every day.”

The city’s health secretary said that no new suspected swine flu deaths had been reported in the capital in the past 24 hours, after three were reported Wednesday and one on Thursday. However, Ebrard warned of a possible rebound effect and said he would wait to see a continuation of the trend before lifting restrictions. “I’m not saying we should let our guard down,” he said.

And another:

We have some more tentatively encouraging news emerging about the Swine Flu virus. Yesterday, we noted that the Mexican government had substantially revised downward the number of deaths attributed to the Swine Flu, from 159 to 84, after tests had ruled out many of the suspected cases. Now comes word from the Times that Mexican officials have now reported that of the 908 suspected cases that have now been tested, only 397 turned out to have suffered from the Swine Flu. Finally, there appears to be some clinical evidence suggesting that people over 60 may have some immunity to the virus.

The New York Times  did an article on how this has been blown up, out of proportion, by the media:

The situation presented the world’s news media with a conundrum: How loudly should a responsible person shout (or whisper) “Possible Fire!” in a crowded theater? The question has been easy to answer for broadcasters, Web sites and newspapers that see the world in tabloid terms. In London, the free commuter newspaper Metro started its coverage on Sunday with the headline “Swine flu ‘could kill up to 120m’,” over a picture of Mexican police with masks and machine guns.

Likewise, no one has been shocked that many anchors on 24-hour-a-day cable news channels, which have a lot of time to fill, have spent a good deal of ithyperventilating. These days, that is to be expected — after all, Jon Stewart makes a very good living pointing out night after night that those channels tend to overreact at some stage to almost every crisis they report. That’s what they do.

Then you have public health officials around the world who are trying to stress that people should be prepared for an emergency, even if one never materializes. To continue the metaphor, they are just whispering loudly, “Make sure the theater has fire extinguishers!”



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