Some Thoughts About the Influenza
In the previous entry, I talked about Intelligence: in times of crisis and uncertainty, this is by far our most valuable gift because it lets us establish a critical difference vis-à-vis our problems, whether they be the economic crisis, natural disasters or influenza
Almost 20 years after the emergence of the Chupacabras, myth, yet another informational phenomenon has caused collective hysteria in our country. Its origin is deficient communication by the authorities and the establishment of in many cases exaggerated public policies that undoubtedly violate individual freedoms on all levels.
There are two highly contagious viruses, then, that we have to fight rationally, maintaining a balance: influenza and panic. The latter is combated with reflection.
I think it is prudent to share some thoughts:
It is officially a pandemic: This virus is extremely contagious (the contagion factor is 1.6 persons infected by each person with the virus, making exponential growth possible). The contagion has spread widely and increasingly throughout the nation and in almost 20 countries around the world: this is why the World Health Organization (WHO) alert has been elevated to Phase 5. Cases of contagion by this virus have been located in different parts of the world, classified as slight, with recovery without complications.
The influenza caused by the A(H1N1) virus is not fatal: according to the WHO, the virus is completely curable if detected in time (see the following point). The 25 confirmed deaths in Mexico of people with the A(H1N1) virus were due to the fact that the patients already had another type of ailment, or health care services treatment was too late in coming. We have to consider that Mexico is the only country that has reported deaths (with the exception of a child of Mexican origin who died in Houston). The U.S. media and government have already stated that it is a virus with a low or zero mortality rate. Considering that our country has 111 million inhabitants, in the last month, the probabilities of dying from this disease is 0.000023 percent if the patient presents no other risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, etc.
The influenza caused by the A(H1N1) virus is curable: Under normal circumstances, our immune system eliminates it by itself. As an aid in this process, the antiviral medications that have been effective in mitigating it are oseltamivir and zanamivir. But it should be clear that, since it is a virus, these medications only shorten the disease and make it more bearable, but they must be administered by medical personnel in the first 48 hours after onset: the worst thing we can do under these circumstances is to self-medicate. We must not make panic purchases of these medications because they do not prevent the disease. The WHO recommendation is to concentrate on mitigating the disease through the use of anti-viral medications and not on containing contagion at all costs. The vaccine against the new strain of influenza virus will be ready within four to six months and large-scale production will take a few months more. We should also remember that the influenza virus mutates every year.
Now, let’s look at the statistics for Mexico for deaths per year from respiratory infections.
1. According to federal government statistics, over the last four years, almost 15,000 deaths nationwide have been attributed to respiratory infections. In 1985, this figure came to almost 30,000; and the year with the lowest number was 2003, with 12,231 deaths.
2. In recent years, the average number of deaths per day from respiratory infections is, therefore, 41. This means that, from April 16 (the day the health alert was declared) until today, according to the normal statistical trend, there would have been about 738 deaths from respiratory infections, regardless of the appearance of the A(H1N1) influenza virus.
In Mexico there have been 25 deaths out of 590 confirmed cases of A(H1N1) virus infection. This indicates a maximum 4.2 percent mortality rate once the virus’s existence is confirmed, which should actually be near zero.
We can see, then, that we should not exaggerate the situation or foster panic: in fact, we have already been informed that the situation has stabilized. Fear is the worst response to any problem because it paralyzes us. We should contain the panic and act rationally, taking precautions individually, but taking into consideration the potential costs and benefits of our personal actions and of any public policy.