H1N1 Swine Flu – Pandemic, Panic & Profits

Last week’s announcement by WHO that the current H1N1 flu is now a pandemic is bound to cause some amount of panic or near-panic state among members of the public, especially those who associate pandemics with massive numbers falling ill and dying. Such was the case in the 1918 flu outbreak where 20 million died.


The 1918 Flu Pandemic - scene in hospital,Fort Riley,Kansas (pix from National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

But there’s been less than 150 people dead from the current flu pandemic! That’s much much less than the 36,000 Americans that die yearly from seasonal flu epidemics…so why the fuss?

Well, the number of deaths doesn’t matter – it’s the transmission in the human population that’s the key. Also, part of the confusion was also from WHO itself in terms of their definition of what constitutes a pandemic. For years, the organization’s Web site defined an influenza pandemic as causing “enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” This is their recently revised version:


So then, the number of deaths don’t really matter, as long as there is widespread human-to-human transmission across borders. One thing for sure – all good (and bad) things will come to pass and the post-pandemic stage will signal the end of the pandemic.

As I’ve mentioned before, where there are threats, there are opportunities..and the swine flu has not been spared. Several marketeers (call them innovative, if you will) have come up with several products that are purported to protect against the H1N1 virus. These include:

–A shampoo that claimed to protect against the H1N1 flu virus;
–A dietary supplement that claimed to protect infants and young children from contracting the H1N1 flu virus;
–A “new” supplement that claimed to cure H1N1 flu infection within four to eight hours.


The magnitude of these false claims has reached proportions that has caused the US FDA to issue a news release on June 15 2009 warning against fraudulent adverts that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. See the full list here.

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3 responses

  1. Pharmacist Millie | Reply

    The swine flu sure is a great opportunity to cash in on. Why would the media and all the other companies pass up?

  2. When you think of it, the number of people dying from H1N1 flu isn’t any more than seasonal flu (0.3% of sufferers).
    My feeling is there is overhype, partly because of the previous experience with the much more dangerous SARS!

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