Playing The Swine Flu Prediction Game

Posted May 12, 2009 by KJ Mullins
British researchers have stated that by the time the swine flu has moved into the new year a third of the world will have been infected. It's a reasonable prediction. The truth is predicting is all that science can do at this stage in the swine flu game.
A sneeze in progress
A sneeze in progress, revealing the plume of salivary droplets as they are expelled in a large cone-shaped array from this man’s open mouth
Photo by CDC/ Brian Judd
The last flu pandemic that left millions dead was in 1957. The swine flu could spread as widely as that strain of flu but because of medical advancements the death toll should be much lower according to researchers at London's Imperial College.
Sky News
Prof. Ferguson said: "What we're seeing is not the same as seasonal flu and there is still cause for concern - we would expect this pandemic to at least double the burden on our healthcare systems."
"However, this initial modelling suggests that the H1N1 virus is not as easily transmitted or as lethal as that found in the flu pandemic in 1918."
Studies are now showing that the swine flu is fatal in around four of every 1,000 cases.
When a person becomes infected with the virus on average they pass it on to between 1.2 and 1.6 others.
This suggests that the new strain of flu is more easily spread than seasonal flu but less infectious than other strains that lead to previous flu pandemics.
The one thing that is known for sure about this pandemic is that we don't know for sure how the game will play out. That is a becoming the overall theme when it comes to the swine flu. We just don't know what to expect.
"I think the right answer is we don't have all the information yet, and anyone who is predicting what we'll see from this day forward is hoping to get lucky," said Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks of Potomac.
Walks is part of a six-member Swine Flu Medical Advisory Board, holding conference calls with O'Malley (D) at least once a day to discuss new developments in the illness, also known as the H1N1 virus.
That's what has been tossed about with the CDC and WHO. There is no denying that the swine flu will touch most people's lives in the Northern Hemisphere by the end of the fall but hopefully because of medical advancements it will not be as deadly as other pandemics.
The reason that the strain will be considered milder is that we have advancements in the medical sector and much better pandemic planning than in the past. Global communications allow for rapid staging before the illness is in the lead.
Of course it's all a roll of the dice in the end. The models, patterns and predictions may be right on the mark or they may be out to lunch.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
"Disease outbreaks are fundamentally unpredictable in detail," argues public-health academic Philip Alcabes, author of "Dread." Instead of looking to physicians to predict epidemics, "we should leave the job of seeing the future to the mystics, prophets and fortunetellers."
This is a time period for the scientists, researchers and doctors to deal with what will come hoping that they are prepared enough to deal with it. Having reasonable markers as predictions help the science community prepare for the worse scenarios. If the worse case does not pan out it could well be that it was because of the preparation time given to the science community.
KYW Newsradio 1060 Philadelphia reports:
Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Pennsylvania’s acting physician general, said last week that a lot of what’s been learned about swine flu, so far, has been somewhat reassuring, however:
“I always look to the great philosopher Yogi Berra, who once said that predictions are always difficult, especially about the future. And one of the things that we’ve always learned about influenza is that it’s very unpredictable.”
Because of the disease being relatively mild much of Europe has played down the concern. Experts have been warning though not to let down guard until the flu season hits in the fall. That will be the true marker of the swine flu as it battles it out with seasonal flu.