The Swine flu (H1N1) epidemic has certainly been gaining ground the last few weeks. This morning I heard of the second swine flu death in South Africa, with around 600 confirmed cases. Having a look on wikipedia, the total confirmed deaths worldwide has grown to almost 200,000 cases with 1500 deaths.

That sounds bad. But is it really?

First, let’s compare the severity of swine flu with the normal seasonal flu statistics. Worldwide, there are between 340 million – 1 billion cases a year, with 250,000 – 500,000 deaths. this gives a fatality rate of less than 0.05%.

Now taking swine flu, worldwide, we have 200,000 cases with 1500 cases which gives a fatality rate of  0.75%. In South Africa, the fatality rate is currently 0.67%. Bear in mind too, that these are confirmed cases only. One source indicates that at the time when the US had 40,000 confirmed cases, they suspected that there could be up to 1 million unconfirmed cases where people have not been sick enough to go see a doctor, or get tested, so let’s take a conservative figure of 2 million actual (but unconfirmed) cases, this brings the fatality rate down to 0.075% – barely higher than the normal seasonal flu.

Now, considering other severe flu outbreaks, the 1918 flue outbreak infected between 0.5 to 1 billion people and had a fatality rate of over 2.5%. The Asian flu epidemic in 1956-58 killed 1 million people but had a fatality rate of less than 0.1%. The same rate applied to the Hong Kong flu in 1968-69, where 2 million people died.

So, what do these stats say. Should we panic?

So far, the number of deaths is not much more than can be expected with any normal flu season, so I think that the worldwide panic that is gripping people is rather unjustified. It sounds scary when news reports start giving death tolls and people think that they may be next. The chances, however are tiny.

There is one scary point that the media keep reporting too……what if the virus mutates into a more virulent strain? So, let’s think about this one, you have a virus that kills only slightly more people than the regular flu, and there is exactly the same chance that the normal seasonal flu might mutate as with the swine flu, so why are we not more scared of seasonal flu then too? It is just as likely to mutate into a killer flu strain as the currently mild swine flu strain.

I think people just need a little bit of perspective. Swine flu is not about to bring about the end of civilization.