Wednesday 11 August 2010

The swine that flew

So, it's out with the old and in with the new...

August 10th 2010:

Swine flu pandemic over, says world health body

The swine flu pandemic has been declared officially over by the World Health Organization.

Millions of people were affected across the world by the infection after it emerged in April last year. But the pandemic - the first for 40 years - proved much less deadly than many had feared.

In the UK, more than 450 people died, but that was well short of the 65,000 predicted as the worst-case scenario.

August 11th 2010:

Superbug NDM-1 To Kill Millions Unless New Antibiotics Found

A new superbug NDM-1 which is resistant to almost every antibiotic is poised to spread and wreak havoc across the world unless new antibiotics are developed quickly warns the UK Health Protection Agency.

As we now know, swine flu was a scandalously expensive health scare. Aided and abetted by that self-aggrandising, fear-mongering old crank Sir Liam Donaldson, a relatively mild influenza bug was turned into a multi-billion dollar cash cow for the pharmaceutical industry (this being his second attempt to generate panic in this way).

Donaldson's eagerness to have a bona fide pandemic on his hands was shared by the World Health Organisation, who—according to Tom Jefferson, a researcher for the international Cochrane Centre—changed the very definition of the word:

"On 1 May the WHO's global pandemic website had the old definition of an influenza pandemic, which included very large numbers of cases, complications and deaths," he said.

"By 4 May that definition had disappeared and what remained was simply a new virus which spreads rapidly and infects very many people."

By September, the grim reaper remained conspicuous by his absence. Donaldson ratcheted up fears as winter drew closer, resolutely ignoring the fact that the Australian flu season had come and gone with a mere 162 deaths—a fraction of the 3,000 lives that normal flu typically claims. Virologists could see that a winter epidemic was never on the cards:

Dr Stoehr believes that, over the course of last summer, after a Phase 6 pandemic was declared, the WHO failed to read the signs about swine flu coming from the southern hemisphere winter.

"In July and August the Australia and New Zealand national influenza centres were indicating the southern hemisphere outbreak was mild," he said.

"Virologists, myself included, thought well, it's not so likely that this virus will become more severe."

Nevertheless, Donaldson described swine flu as the "biggest challenge [to the NHS] in a generation" and predicted that a third of the UK population would come down with the virus in the winter. In an act of near-insanity, the British government ordered 110 million doses of the swine flu vaccine Tamiflu, the Department of Health ordered 32 million face masks and the Home Office made plans to dig mass graves.

In the event—despite the coldest winter for 30 years—there were fewer deaths than in the average flu season. The final death toll was 450—0.7% of the 65,000 predicted in Donaldson's worst-case scenario. Of these 450 deaths, only 70 could be solely attributed to swine flu.

Like all disciples of the precautionary principle, Donaldson could attribute the low death toll to his own policies. But there were even fewer deaths in Poland, whose government did not buy a single dose of Tamiflu.

In truth, it was obvious within a week of the initial outbreak that swine flu was not going to be a major killer. If it was going to slay millions, it would have done so in crowded and poverty-stricken Mexico City, where the scare began. Clearly, this was a fairly contagious but not very potent disease. Swine flu single-handedly brought the phrase "chronic underlying health problems" into the popular lexicon, as they seemed to be a prerequisite for any swine flu-related death. The chance of dying from the disease once you contracted it was 0.0001%.

There is now a substantial body of evidence that the over-reaction was largely due to the excessive influence of Big Pharma. This from The Guardian:

Scientists who drew up the key World Health Organisation guidelines advising governments to stockpile drugs in the event of a flu pandemic had previously been paid by drug companies which stood to profit, according to a report out today.

Wolfgang Wodarg, former chairman of the Council of Europe Health Committee called the swine flu frenzy "one of the greatest medicine scandals of the century."

"It's just a normal kind of flu. It does not cause a tenth of deaths caused by the classic seasonal flu. The great campaign of panic we have seen provided a golden opportunity for representatives from labs who knew they would hit the jackpot in the case of a pandemic being declared.

"We want to clarify everything that brought about this massive operation of disinformation. We want to know who made decisions, on the basis of what evidence, and precisely how the influence of the pharmaceutical industry came to bear on the decision-making."

So what of today's news? Firstly, let's remember that the NDM-1 bug is not in the news because there has been a sudden outbreak. The media are only reporting a paper that has just been published in The Lancet, which studied 37 of the approximately 50 cases that have been reported in the UK over the last two years. According to the BBC: "For some of the patients the infection was mild, while others were seriously ill, and some with blood poisoning." The low infection rate and very low mortality rate do not suggest we are looking at an epidemic. The Lancet study emphasised the need to monitor NDM-1, which would obviously be sensible. The more hysterical claims are the media's alone.

Don't go digging any mass graves just yet.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Good spot.

The world's most famous domestic science graduate (Dr M Chan) was on telly yesterday sort-of-apologising for hamming up the swine flu thingy (geddit?), but today the WHO and all their lobbyist chums are doing the usual "It's summer so time for the stories about giant killer rats, drug-resistant bugs etc"

Angry Exile said...

It was Donaldson's third or fourth attempt, surely. If memory serves before bird flu the fat bone pointer was going on about SARS, and before that vCJD. It's almost been a career, really. I'm sure in his younger days he was warning his primary school teachers of an epidemic of running with scissors.

Unknown said...

No shit, Sherlock ....

The WHO is a goddamned disgrace. What it should be doing is moving heaven and earth to deal with malaria and dysentry that kill thousands of children and babies every month, not creating scares over pandemics that never happen and wringing it's hands over obese, pissed, smoking/drugged up westerners who can read , know the risks and have made a lifestyle CHOICE.

Anonymous said...


Yesterday, I leaned over to my co-worker and told my her that the WHO had declared and end to H1N1.

Today, I was listening to the radio news and I leaned into her cube and said, "You're not gonna believe it-- they've come up with a new virus already today!"

Where I live, the state had ordered that all state health employees get H1N1 immunizations. Then the workers protested. A vociferous debate broke out, and the state finally backed down.

If nothing else, what a colossal waste of time and energy these health scares are. All of the talking, the writing, the reading, the print, the electronic resources...all for what? Collectively, millions, perhaps billions, of hours of doubt, more life-time was lost worrying about H1N1 than life-time was lost from those who died of it.

Someday, there might be a legitimate health scare. Then, public health will be "the boy who cried wolf".

Bird flu, anyone?


Anonymous said...

Maybe H1N1 didn’t quite go according to plan :) (Grave-digging plans gone to waste). Maybe some use could be extracted from those 32,000,000 face-masks now sitting idle. Allow smoking in pubs again and hand the masks out to the “smoke terrified”.

Anonymous said...

While swine flu was always a joke and a massive beat-up, multi-drug resistant bacteria are an entirely different kettle of fish.

They are a very, very serious matter which could easily send us back to pre-penicillin days, especially with filthy NHS hospitals.

Kin_Free said...

Here's who received money from Big Pharma and then influenced the WHO decision to declare a pandemic:

Unknown said...

As the native american indian saying goes.
The sun will still rise tommorow.

Jackpot Citys said...

keep spirit keep blogging..... :)