Flu Watch Oct. 31 – What swine flu ISN’T doing this week

It’s Halloween, and the monster at the door is swine flu. Or so we’re told. Yet again. And people respond accordingly. “I’ve never seen it like this,” an administrator at Dunwoody Pediatrics in suburban Atlanta told USA Today. “That name, H1N1, sends parents into a panic. We’ve had a lot of verbal abuse.” And yet there’s evidence the epidemic may have peaked!

The CDC reports that hospitalizations for the week ending October 24 barely increased while deaths are actually down from the week before. So when the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology August report said its “plausible scenario” showed 30,000 – 90,000 swine flu deaths peaking in “mid-October” it may have been part right. Though not the part everybody was worried about.

The Flu Count Website shows 1,200 U.S. deaths since the early April outbreak according to media reports. Worldwide it shows only 7,000. (Unfortunately, the site also says it provides official CDC numbers, though I verified that it does not.) That’s about the number the CDC estimates who die of seasonal flu every five days during season and worldwide the number who die of seasonal flu every seven days.

On campuses cases rose last week by a third according to the American College Health Association, but the number of cases per student isn’t dramatically higher than it was in the second week of September.

The percentage of positive tests picked up by the CDC’s surveillance laboratories is also the highest it’s been this fall at 42 percent. Yet the panic factor, as measured by the percentage of visits to emergency rooms and outpatient clinics by people worried they have the flu – and worried enough to seek medical attention – is astounding at over 8 percent. That’s the highest it’s been this century.

With the Obama Administration declaring a national emergency and New York’s governor declaring a state emergency, panic begat panic. The perpetual motion machine of fear drives on.