Swine Flu: A Perspective
How worried should we be about swine flu? I believe we are overacting. My opinion, informed by current reports, the behavior of past influenza epidemics, and my knowledge and experience as a virologist, is that while this is potentially serious, there is no cause for alarm. Based on what we know today, we should be no more worried about the current epidemic of swine flu than we are about the seasonal influenza epidemics that sweep across the globe each November to March. The current level of concern—including 24-hour media coverage, closing of school districts and restrictions on international travel—is overblown.
There are several reasons for optimism. The epidemic appears to have been detected very early on, giving individuals and public health officials time to react. At present, fewer than 1,000 cases have been detected worldwide. By comparison, seasonal flu affects 15 to 60 million people living in the United States each year and about 600 million worldwide. This suggests that the infection is not as easily transmitted from one person to another as is seasonal flu. And the symptoms of infection seem no worse than those of last year’s influenza—at least for those living outside of Mexico.