Panic over swine flu 'pandemic' was unnecessary

Bill
Bill Westcott
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Was the H1N1 pandemic as dire as they said it was?

Before Betty and I left for Florida last November the hype over the feared H1N1 flu virus had almost reached panic level.

Already vaccinated for the seasonal flu we were advised by our family doctor in Clarke's Beach to get the H1N1 shot before we left for the U.S.

Scribblings of a Corner Boy -

Was the H1N1 pandemic as dire as they said it was?

Before Betty and I left for Florida last November the hype over the feared H1N1 flu virus had almost reached panic level.

Already vaccinated for the seasonal flu we were advised by our family doctor in Clarke's Beach to get the H1N1 shot before we left for the U.S.

I phoned Health and Community Services and a staff member advised us to go to the special clinic in Bay Roberts and we would be able to get our immunization shots there.

Feeling good about the arrangement, we drove to the Community Health building and lined up with the many residents who had already gathered. It was a brief wait but we were glad to be in the line up.

When we reached the check-in desk to sign the approval forums we were met with, "Oh we're sorry folks but we are not administering shots to travellers yet."

But, we said to the supervisor, we were advised to be here at this time.

"I apologize but that has just been changed," she replied.

Quite disappointed, the next day we left for Florida with the intentions of getting our shots there at a local hospital or public health clinic.

Surprising find

When we got settled away I made a conscious decision to canvas our Newfoundland friends in our park. There are over 25 here and to my surprise only a few had received the H1N1 vaccination. I noticed as well, a feeling of complacency amongst our American friends and neighbours.

Of late there have been 267 hospitalizations in Newfoundland and Labrador and only 18 deaths attributed to the H1N1 virus. Keep in mind there are 500,000 of us and that figure is staggering low in my opinion. Do the math. As you do, keep in mind several Newfoundlanders die each year from complications resulting from seasonal flu.

As of Feb. 1 across Canada there have been 426 deaths attributed to the H1N1 virus. It is interesting to note that there was only one death during the month of January in Ontario, our largest populated province.

Below expected range

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is committed to sharing information about the impact the H1N1 virus is having in Canada. In a release dated Feb. 10 PHAC reported: "Over the last few weeks, all influenza activity indicators are either within or below the expected range for a normal flu season, marking the end of the second phase of H1N1 flu activity in Canada."

The release went on to say there has been a significant decrease in the rates of H1N1 infection, hospitalizations and deaths.

Our Public Health Agency of Canada also stated: "Subsequently, PHAC will no longer be producing a weekly report of deaths associated with the H1N1 flu virus.

Really!

Majority mild cases

The more I dig into this subject, the more I have to ask myself, was the H1N1 pandemic as dire as they said it was? I don't think it was.

Locally, our provincial Health and Community Services department issued the following in a release dated Jan. 4. "The H1N1 virus is still circulating in our communities. To date, the majority of cases have been mild - however the provincial health care system is preparing for the possibility of a more widespread outbreak."

Consistent with other jurisdictions, testing is now done only on "a limited basis" to show the magnitude of the H1N1 virus in our Newfoundland and Labrador communities.

Concluding their release, they reported the stats (I mentioned earlier in this column. A total of 267 people from a population of 500,000 were hospitalized resulting in 18 deaths.

Let's review a couple of revealing facts

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on Feb. 10 said lately, all influenza activity indicators are either within or below the expected range for a normal flu season. Preceding that report, about a month before (Jan. 4) our provincial Health and Community Services said it is preparing for the "possibility" of a more widespread outbreak.

Remember that is just a possibility.

Demand declines

On Feb. 2 the St. Petersburg Times, Florida's eminent newspaper reported more than a month has passed since swine flu (H1N1) was considered widespread anywhere in Florida. In a special-feature report headlined: Was the swine flu fuss necessary, it reported that the H1N1 vaccine is widely available, but demand has fallen off along with the threat from the virus. Remember those complacent American neighbours of mine?

Although they warned that H1N1 is still circulating and the regular yearly flu season is far from over, officials are starting to step back and reflect on the most extensive public health campaign ever.

Just like in Canada, no one will forget the swine flu virus that sickened tens of millions internationally, but eventually proved far less dangerous than feared.

Sure it was making people sick and sure there were reported deaths - 188 in Florida out of 18 million residents - but the bottom line was that critics say this was no big deal.

I will never forget the Newfoundland and Labrador school closings in the early days of the outbreak to the frustrating vaccine shortages at its peak.

H1N1 was proven to be less severe. Where were the millions of deaths predicted to happen internationally I have to ask? They never happened!

In a country with a population of over 300 million, there were an estimated 57 million who contacted H1N1 since its outbreak. Out of that 7,900 to 12,000 died between April and mid-December 2009. Keep in mind while these figures appear alarming, on average about 40,000 U.S. citizens die each year as a result of "regular seasonal flu".

In Canada with a population of 30 million souls the average number of deaths caused by regular seasonal flu is about 6,000. Note again that is seasonal flu I am talking about.

Greatly overblown

In the U.S the prestigious Harvard School of Public Health said recently, following an extensive poll it conducted, that most Americans still do not intend to get the swine flu vaccine. They assume the pandemic is over and think that the threat was greatly overblown.

These opinions seem to reflect my own and are similar to the opinion of the large number of Newfoundlanders I questioned during the last few months here in Florida.

To me, and I am not alone in this, the constant outbreak of hysteria not backed by hard evidence, without doubt has resulted in "a public relations fiasco" over the H1N1 virus pandemic.

In my opinion, our political and media establishments (radio/television and newspapers) helped ignite the panic-driven notion that we must take drastic action in a hurry even though there was no hard evidence to justify the sudden urgency.

If I am wrong, then I have to ask why the latest findings and subsequent actions by established World Health Organizations, including Health and Community Services, Newfoundland and Labrador and Health Canada concerning H1N1 appear to solidify my fear-mongering suspicion.

Was the swine flu pandemic as dire as they said it was? Not as far as I am concerned. Will I finally get the H1N1 vaccination? The answer is no!

Bill Westcott writes from Zephyrhills, Florida where H1N1 still appears to be no big deal.

Organizations: Health and Community Services department, Public Health Agency of Canada, Community Health St. Petersburg Times Newfoundland and Labrador school Harvard School of Public Health Health Canada

Geographic location: Zephyrhills, Florida, U.S., Newfoundland and Labrador Canada Bay Roberts Ontario

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