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Flu death risk overrated

Posted by medconsumers on March 22, 2010

Here’s the final death count on the pandemic that wasn’t. An estimated 12,000 Americans died from the H1N1 swine flu between April 2009 (when it first emerged) and March 12, 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of the American population of over 315 million, this number of swine flu deaths is pretty low on the list of things likely to kill us before our time. (The majority of flu-related deaths occur in people over age 65.) Swine flu proved to be much less lethal than the ordinary seasonal flu that accounts for an estimated 36,000 deaths, which is the CDC’s usual yearly estimate. The CDC must resort to estimates because laboratory-confirmed deaths are uncommon. Many people die at home; or they die in the hospital of influenza complications (e.g., pneumonia, congestive heart failure) and the virus has left the body by the time the death occurs. One of the many things we’re not likely to find out is: how many deaths occurred among people who were vaccinated?

The relatively benign nature of this flu season confirms the position taken by international influenza expert Tom Jefferson, MD, who has long maintained that the threat of influenza is greatly overestimated. (See “Why the swine flu is not a major threat.”) As for the crucial question about vaccine effectiveness, he says that there is no proof that vaccines reduce the chance of death or complications in people who need them the most, e.g., people with severe respiratory problems. His judgment is based on the careful assessment of 50 years’ worth of research on this topic for the Cochrane Collaboration.

The amount of money governments spent on influenza vaccines and minimally effective anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza has raised questions in several European countries. The Council of Europe will hold a hearing March 29 about how the World Health Organization’s pandemic guidelines were established and how national health authorities interpreted these guidelines. (WHO has at least seven different definitions of pandemic, according to Dr. Jefferson.) Dr. Jefferson will speak at this hearing that will be attended by members of the European Parliament. Polish Health Minister Ewa Kopacz will explain why Poland decided not to order any H1N1 vaccines. Pointed questions from the European media, most notably Der Spiegel, before and after the “pandemic” were the impetus for this meeting. So far there is no equivalent public soul-searching in the U.S. about the money, time, and effort spent on the pandemic that wasn’t.

Read our report of the Council of Europe hearing.

Related postings
Swine flu hysteria
Tamiflu: serious questions remain
WHO accused of losing public confidence over flu pandemic.

Maryann Napoli, Center for Medical Consumers(c)

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