States reporting new cases of swine flu are lighting up the country like election night. Celebrities, meanwhile, are wearing masks, thousands of children will be out of school for weeks, and many are cancelling their travel plans for fear of a virus that is currently on level 5 out of 6 on the World Health Organizations pandemic alert level.
Swine flu may sound nasty. As of late Thursday, there are 236 cases of swine flu and eight confirmed deaths worldwide.
But by comparison an estimated 600 people die of tuberculosis, about 1,400 people die from strep and 2,704 people die from a common asbestos-related lung cancer in the United States every year.
Last year the seasonal flu took the lives of 83 children and an estimated 36,000 adults in the United States, according to the CDC.
The head of the CDC's influenza division, Dr. Nancy Cox, said today that preliminary research suggests the swine flu virus lacks many of the "markers for virulence" possessed by the H1N1 pandemic virus of 1918.
Because the virus lacks these key components of the virus that killed between 30-50 million people nearly a century ago, she suggested that the swine flu may not be as deadly.
"What we have found by looking very carefully at the sequence of the new H1N1 virus is that we're not seeing the markers for virulence that we saw in 1918 virus," she said.
Of course, pandemics can be deadly and need public health measures.
But in every flu pandemic since 1918, the numbers have luckily dwindled. The 1957-1958 pandemic flu took 70,000 deaths above the normal flu season, and the 1968-1967 pandemic flu caused 33,000 more deaths than the average flu season. The virulence of the virus does matter, but public health measures can clearly make a huge difference.
The following are some of the quick facts on the swine flu outbreak so far.
How Worried Are Americans?
The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a national poll on swine flu this week, the results of which were released Friday. According to the results:
46 percent of Americans are concerned about catching swine flu in the next year;
20 percent, are "very" concerned about it;
53 percent not concerned about encountering the swine flu over the next 12 months.
But that doesn't mean Americans aren't taking precautions. In response to the outbreak:
59 percent of respondents say they have washed their hands or used a hand sanitizer more frequently; 25 percent have avoided crowded places; 20 percent have avoided people they think may have recently visited Mexico; 17 percent have avoided Mexican restaurants or grocery stores; 8 percent have worn a face mask; 5 percent have talked with their doctor about swine flu; 1 percent have gotten a prescription for or purchased antivirals such as Tamiflu or Relenza.
Swine Flu Cases in the United States
Connecticut: 1 *
Florida: 2 *
Georgia: 1 *
Maine: 3 *
New Jersey: 5
New York: 50
South Carolina: 16
Texas: 28 cases, 1 death
* These cases have been reported by state health officials, but have not yet been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
U.S. Swine Flu News