Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Some stupid questions about H1N1

"The only stupid question is the one that doesn't get asked."
-- Joe Easingwood, talk show host, C-FAX Radio Victoria

When Kenneth and Gloria Copeland came to Vancouver in the spring of 2002, their theme was NO FEAR HERE. The 9/11 attack was still fresh in the world's memory and the whole premise was to encourage people to walk in faith, in love towards one another, and not to allow terrorists -- the ultimate fear-mongers -- to rule their lives. It's a lesson and an attitude that I've tried to live by -- and encourage others to live by -- to this day.

Fear is a terrible motivator. You get pushed to make decisions and take actions that turn out to be more hasty than considered, simply because you're scared, and one of the many reasons for being scared is that you don't have enough information about something. Knowledge overcomes fear, and when that knowledge is God's promises, that's faith.

This is why I'm concerned about the level of fear surrounding the H1N1 flu. There are a lot of pronouncements by health officials -- dutifully and sensationally echoed by the media -- but some basic information is lacking.
On the "Easingwood Principle" mentioned above, therefore, may I offer some STUPID QUESTIONS ABOUT H1N1:
  • How serious is H1N1 flu compared to other "seasonal" flus?
  • What makes H1N1 different that there is so much hype this season?
  • How does the projected death toll compare to the overall projection of deaths from influenza?
  • Did the people who died receive H1N1 shots?

That last one may seem like a really stupid question, but no one's asking it, and it would go a long way towards convincing people whether or not to get vaccinated.

As for the question before it, it's dashed hard to get "normative" data on H1N1. (The Corporate Wellness manager where I work tried without success to get it from health authorities.) A 2004 Health Canada report -- the most recent I could find online -- projected that 2500 people a year in Canada would die from flu and flu-related causes. Now note that, since April, 42 people have died in BC from H1N1 and BC's Medical Health Officer this week predicted another 30 or so would die before this is over.

If you figure BC has approximately 12% of Canada's population, "72 or so" would extrapolate to less than 600 for the entire country.

So if you go back to that initial figure of 2500 projected to die from any kind of flu "and related causes", that leaves maybe 1900 such deaths in Canada expected this year.

The "information" that is being provided is simply information on where to get vaccinated and a lot of highly-placed doctors telling us we should. But we're not getting anything to put this into perspective.

I don't know how many of you remember this, but when H1N1 started appearing last spring, the World Health Organization, while talking about a possible "pandemic", was careful to say that the word did not relate to the severity of the disease, but rather its readiness to spread from person to person and the number of countries where it was spreading.What do we get? Stories about the "deadliest week" (8 deaths). An item in Business in Vancouver recently, trumpeting the business opportunities from developing vaccines and other preventive measures against H1N1. Opinion pieces like one that says there's too much fear and ignorance in the discussion, without actually answering the questions, itself: it just ridicules the people (like me) who want some simple information. A full-page ad from the country's chief medical officer urging us to get vaccinated.

(Not that there isn't some pretty ridiculous talk out there on the anti-vaccination side: one friend of mine piped up that he'd heard the vaccine was made out of pigs. Swine flu, right? He was serious! I'd hate to see how they make vaccine against Hong Kong Flu. But I digress ...)

Darn right there's too much fear and ignorance. I'm not a doctor (although I did play one on the stage), but when I see the level of fear and lack of simple information -- or people asking the "stupid questions", I start to smell something.

1 comment:

  1. There is actually quite a bit of information out there if you were to bother to do your research. What makes this flu different, and the counting of deaths different, than the seasonal flu is that it kills the young. It is the consistent blind spot in this issue. And most of the people it is killing is kids. The seasonal flu kills the elderly at the end of their lives. It is this difference that is what health authorities are responding to. It is why we need to vaccinate, to save the lives of the young.