Swine Flu Reality Check

Where flu pandemics hit present and past, with advice on what to do about it.

April 30, 2009, 1:25 PM

May 1, 2009— -- 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:

But that doesn't mean Americans aren't taking precautions. In response to the outbreak:

Swine Flu Cases in the United States

* 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

Swine Flu at Home, and Abroad

Although Ohio was one of the earliest states to confirm a case of swine flu, so far only a single person in the state has tested positive. The case was boy in the third-grade at Ely Elementary School in Elyria, Ohio. His school canceled classes for a week and scrubbed the entire interior with disinfectant, according to Amy Higgins, communications Coordinator for Elyria School District.

International Swine Flu Cases

The WHO has officially confirmed 331 cases of swine flu and 10 deaths. The numbers increase according to each country's official tally.

The WHO announced suspected cases under investigation in at least 15 other countries.

International Swine Flu News

The CDC recommends the following steps to protect yourself from flu.

The World Health Organization is working to develop a profile of the "typical case" of swine flu, but thus far, the symptoms appear to be essentially the same as those for the usual winter flu. Hallmark symptoms of flu include:

Sources: the CDC, the World Health Organization, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Associated Press Contributed to this report

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