Swine flu arithmetic. Yes, you should still be afraid.

Last month, I used swine flu as a test-case for Wolfram|Alpha. This month, with my next-door neighbour’s school already closed due to the ‘flu, I’m getting more concerned about the pandemic itself.

Here are the charts. You can see from the shape that the previous straight line has now become an exponential.

Notice how the two curves have about the same shape. The ratio of infections to deaths has remained approximately constant at 0.5%. Before you say “oh, that’s only in Mexico” let me give you the figures for the USA; 27,698 confirmed cases and 127 deaths. That’s 0.46%.

In previous ‘flu pandemics, pretty much everyone in the world has been infected in the end. So, let’s do the arithmetic on what that means:

  • In a ‘bog standard’ comprehensive of 2,000 pupils, 10 pupils will die.
  • In the UK, (pop 60M), 30,000 will die.
  • In the world (pop 6Bn), 30 million people will die. This would make it the second-worst pandemic in history.

What’s really bugging me is the complacency of the authorities, here in the UK and in many other countries. Because there have been relatively few deaths so far (Wolfram says 279 worldwide) the media is putting out the message that this is just a scare, and it will go away if we ignore it. Alternatively, the notion is promulgated that now the genii has escaped from its Mexican bottle, there is nothing we can do, so why worry?

Neither is true. The Chinese government has shown that this major threat can be effectively countered. They are using mandatory quarantine to buy themselves time whilst a vaccine is developed. Even if they can only buy themselves six months, the vaccine should be ready, in bulk, before a significant death rate kicks in in China. At the cost of inconveniencing a few hundred people for week or so each, they may be saving as many as 5 million lives.

So, what can you and I do to compensate for the incompetence of our elected representatives? We can insist on the maximum possible quarantine for any suspected case in school. Faced with clear evidence that one infected child in 200 is likely to die, fear of litigation may succeed where fear of infection failed.


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5 responses to “Swine flu arithmetic. Yes, you should still be afraid.”

  1. I’m sorry, but this really is adding to the media hype dressed up in seemingly ‘convincing’ numerical analysis and backed up with unhelpful emotive language. Acceptable for Daily Mail readers as they expect hysteria, but is “Chalkface” suggesting teachers of mathematics put this in front of children without considering a few mundane realities? One to start with – UK recent figures: 6000 confirmed cases, 2 deaths, both patients with long term serious illnesses.

  2. That’s cheery. We have swine flu at school, but haven’t closed. I’ll get the body bags ready then.

  3. We have had swine flu in our school for weeks and also a vomitting virus but have not closed. At least half pupils have been absent in each class.

  4. Yes we have had swine flu in our school and not closed. Brian and Mary.. get your facts(and figures straight) some deaths (more than 2) have involved people with NO underlying health problems,AND, how do you think parents of children and family members must feel knowing that thier loved ones are more `at risk` than others. I am one of these people who has a child and family member in this predicament but I had to stay at school hoping I would not pass anything to my family. I am so relieved the hols are here. We were promised the vaccine in August and have now been told by the GP that it will be Dec and then hear that approx 100,000 cases in 7 days have been reported. OH YES we will have to get the body bags wont we Mary. Your comments lead me to believe that you are both lucky enough to have healthy family members, well done. Show some consideration for othewrs and yes the goverment should be doing a LOT MORE to try to contain this

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