The officials have announced that the death rate from swine flu infections is low. They have leapfrogged from this fact to the inference that the virus is not particularly lethal. Would that be with or without the administration of Tamiflu to affected patients?
Now let's stop clowning around. Officials do not know for certain how lethal swine flu is. But it doesn't take a lot of data collection to figure out that if a teenaged healthy patient presents with symptoms of a 103 degree and rising fever, and who is unable to move, and who "looks as if she was run over by a truck," as the father of one swine flu sufferer described his daughter's condition, she might not be long for this world without rapid medical intervention. The student in question started a quick recovery after two doses of Tamiflu.
From this, and from many aspects of the data so far, it is very likely that Tamiflu, and not a wimpy version of a swine flu virus, explains the low death rate so far from H1N1 infections.
That also explains the higher death count in Mexico. Money says that many of the Mexico deaths occurred before doctors in Mexico realized they were dealing with more than an ordinary flu virus and thought to administer Tamiflu or Relenza.
When we drill down into the data we also see that anecdotal reports about some of the deaths in Mexico, and recent research in Hong Kong, suggest that deaths from swine flu among the young and healthy are not so much from the virus itself as from a "cytokine storm" -- a healthy immune system overreacting to an unknown invader with such force that it kills the flu sufferer. (1) I believe it's been scientifically established that the cytokine storm reaction killed many who contracted the 1918 flu virus -- if not, the researchers have made a reasonable guess.
To put all this another way: Health officials should stop putting all their eggs in the vaccine basket, if you'll pardon the expression. Act with intelligence in the face of what might be a mass murderer of the young if not for the limited supply of anti-virals:
Those items are just to get the ball rolling in the right direction. More later this evening. For now, two closing points:
Officials should stop yammering that 36,000 people die every year from flu. I understand that's a well-intentioned effort to calm fears about swine flu. However, the statistic is very misleading; all health officials know this, and when the general public discovers this, it's gonna be furious.
If there is intelligent life in the infectious disease division at the National Institutes of Health, they should step up to the plate and recommend that the US follow Hong Kong's lead in battling the swine flu virus and that as many temperature monitors as possible be immediately installed at ports and airports.
NIH shouldn't worry about ruffling feathers at the CDC; just tell them, 'Get the hell out of our way.'
I address the same advice to the Department of Homeland Security.
Let's move it, ladies and gentlemen; you've lost almost a month to crapping around with data collection.
1) From a May 11 Bloomberg report:
"About 56 percent of people who died from flu in Mexico showed signs of a “hyper-immune reaction” according to the health ministry, which didn’t give details."
That would be the cytokine storm reaction.
7:30 PM Update
Email from a reader:
"My memory is that there are limited Tamiflu stores, not nearly enough for the multiple doeses needed; none for the underclass in the fifth world"
I believe the reader's memory is correct, although it's not just the underclass in the poorest countries that don't have access to Tamiflu. Reports surfaced early on from WHO sources that there were horrific fights going on about which governnments got how much of the presently available anti-virals. Japan snapped up a huge supply of Tamiflu. Looks as if they're going to need it, if the disease keeps spreading there. The Indian pharmas might play deus ex machina here; days ago WHO talked about getting the patent rights waived and allowing generic versions of Tamiflu to be produced. Somehow I doubt Indian (and Chinese) companies are waiting around for the red tape to be cut.
Previous Pundita posts on swine flu
Mr President, fire NYC health commissioner Thomas Frieden from his post as CDC director before he even starts to work there
Say, whatever happened to that 2007 Senate subcommittee report on CDC fraud, waste, galloping mission creep, and failure to control disease?
Enraged U.S. lawmakers, union leaders, attack Homeland Security's negligent swine flu policy
H1N1/Swine Flu: Was Cuba's airport blockade an over-reaction to the outbreak?
H1N1/swine flu: CDC and WHO help unleash a pandemic
Swine flu/H1N1: Your life, riding on the CDC's slow boat from China
What Joe Biden knows about the jet-setter swine flu that you don't
H1N1 swine flu: WHO circles the wagons in response to criticism they were slow to warn
H1N1 swine flu pandemic threat: While WHO and the U.S. government dithered, Veratect Corporation raced to warn the world
Mexico-U.S. swine flu outbreak and the U.S. Department of Slime
Mexican-U.S. swine flu outbreak. Caution: blind curves and fog ahead
This entry is crossposted at RBO.