Public Health

Swine Flu: The Mystery Epidemic


Part of the mystery comes from a federal government in such a tizzy to spread its vaccine and declare "national emergencies" that it doesn't think it's necessary to keep counting. Via CBS News:

In late July, the CDC abruptly advised states to stop testing for H1N1 flu, and stopped counting individual cases. The rationale given for the CDC guidance to forego testing and tracking individual cases was: why waste resources testing for H1N1 flu when the government has already confirmed there's an epidemic?

Riffing off the same story, Mickey Kaus notes:

Am I the only one…who finds reports like NBC's last night on the spread of swine flu ("galloping its way across the country") to be wildly unconvincing? The NBC piece claims "90 dead" last week under the rubric "swine flu cases."…As this CDC report makes clear, that figure includes both the swine flu and the regular annual flu. Indeed, NBC promiscuously conflates a) swine flu (H1N1); b) regular flu and c) "flu like symptoms" which may not be any kind of flu at all. … That may be because the CDC itself has decided to conflate at least the first two categories, as noted in this seemingly damning CBS story and confirmed in the CDC report itself:

This new system was implemented on August 30, 2009, and replaces the weekly report of laboratory confirmed 2009 H1N1-related hospitalizations and deaths that began in April 2009. Jurisdictions can now report to CDC either laboratory confirmed or pneumonia and influenza syndromic-based counts of hospitalizations and deaths resulting from all types or subtypes of influenza, not just those from 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. [E.A.]

I think this means the CDC does not really know how many cases are swine flu and how many aren't. (The regular flu kills many thousands of people every year.)

Past swine flu blogging from me.

NEXT: The Judge Said the Case's Outcome Turned on Poor Briefing

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I want to assure everyone that nothing you read here can be believed. A Reason-level or less of skepticism is all that’s warranted here. PresidentObama has our best interests at heart and is simply trying to avoid panic. All libertarians should get their shots now.

    1. Reason-level of skepticism? So that would be skepticism that has been expressed since the first reports of the ‘epidemic’?


    2. Subsiste Sermonem Statim LoneWacko!

  2. For most of us, swine flu is no greater risk than regular flu. There are some groups who are at higher risks, like pregnant women. For them, this is a fairly big deal. Of course, nuances like that are lost on the innumerate, scientific and medical illiterates that constitute today’s media.

    1. The MSM fear-mongers are rarely comparing swine flu deaths with normal flu-death statistics, thus skewing and overstating any real threat. Why would they be so irresponsible? Oh, I don’t know…incompetence…a ratings-driven philosophy?

      1. Why, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!

        “The press” should be replaced with the term, “The Shrieking Drama Queens.”

        1. Cue the dramatic music as America’s media sweetheart and all around dunce, Katie Couric, empathetically explains the illusory crisis. Now with better charts!

        2. Nah, the Obama-cockslupring-cunts.

      2. Funny, last time I heard a report on this it went something like this…

        “So far this year 80 toddlers have died from flu, while in a typical year only 43 die from flu…and we still have 7 months left in flu season.”

        1. Citation needed

        2. Last night on the news I heard that 100 children (under 18 in the US) had died from the swine flue since the beginning of the year. That would be about 10 months of which 4 (jan-apr) were part of the previous flu season (oct-apr). Then I decided to look up the death toll in the preceding years. Turns out most of the literature only follow the flu season which is about 6 months. The average was about 150 children (US) under the age of 18 die during each flu season. IIRC, approximately 95% were under 4 years of age. Suddenly, 100 children in 10 months doesn’t seem that alarming.

    2. The risk groups are mainly those under 25, and pregnant women. One of the unusual things is that people born before 1950 are at very low risk. The other is that it is much more contagious than most flu…so, eve with mild to average kill rates it will kill more than an average flu.

      1. The over 60 crowd got robust anti-bodies from the last swine flu pandemic in 1977.

        1. Well, iirc, the over 30 crowd got it from that one and the older folks from the outbreaks that were much closer to this version that happened prior to 1950.

        2. I talked to my doctor about that, last time I saw him. It sounds like the lowest at-risk group is over 60, which points to a much earlier and less publicized outbreak of swine flu. I don’t think the one in the 70s ever really affected that much of the U.S. population.

        3. There was no 1977 flu pandemic to produce antibodies, though 22% of the US population was vaccinated. The only recorded cases were in Fort Dix, New Jersey. The protection afforded to older people is related to the difference between the way the immune system works in older people, not antibodies.

          Unfortunately, no antibodies were produced to protect us from media over-reaction.

        4. Unless I am completely daft, which is possible, I do believe that the vaccines given out for ’70’s Swine Flu killed more people than the actual flu did.

          1. I don’t know if it killed more people, but it was linked to cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which caused the gov’t to pull the vacc from the market.

  3. Testing is expensive; if someone dies, we’ll just assume its swine flu, you know, just to be on the safe side. As the ACORN census takers and voter registartioners will tell you, it is better to overcount than undercount.

  4. For a look at the number of confirmed swine flu cases (reported by CDC & WHO) in the US & the world, check out:…..there.html

  5. Another thing that seems a little strange is that: on the one hand, the vaccine is said to be safe because the traditional production method is being used; while, OTO, production is said to be slow because the virus is not growing as expected.

    1. SCOOP only caught so much. The Wildfire facility has a very small staff too. Furthermore, Piedmont, AZ is remote.

      You cannot ignore all of these factors and then blame government.

      Bottom line: Dr. Stone needs more funding.

    2. Does it actually seem strange, or is your lack of scientific background the problem?

      1. Probably the latter.

        I realize the “hands” are not *necessarily* at odds. However, because the actual production rate differs so much from that predicted, I don’t get a warm fuzzy that the virus is completely understood.

        If you can enlighten me, please do.

        1. No matter what, when it comes to vaccines, you should never, ever, get warm fuzzies.

          Do keep in mind that Baxter, one of the 5 main producers of the vaccine, almost started a pandemic all by itself in February. It’s also been busted defrauding Medicaid. To assist with the rush to make enough vaccine, Baxter and others were proactively by the USGovt.

          1. Sorry, had to remove a link because the new Reason posting policy only allows two, and when I did I lost meaning. Meant to say:

            “To assist with the rush to make enough vaccine, Baxter and others were proactively granted legal immunity by the USGovt.”

            1. Citing Gary Null = epic science fail.

              FOAD antivax nutjob.

              1. I wasn’t citing Null so much as Janine Roberts. And anyway calling Null a nutjob is a convenient way to ignore any other details you wish. Here at work, doctors themselves have been reticent to advise us to take vaccines. Just because I choose not to impale myself on pharma’s dirty needle doesn’t make me an antivax nutjob. But feel free to decide that for me. Oh, you already have.

                1. And no comment on the “impossibility” of Baxter’s complete protocol FAIL that could have resulted in pandemic? We get to see the utter fail that is Baxter technology at work everyday (a fail that also illustrates the colossal fail of the FDA, by the way) with their terrible intravenous and autosyringe failures. I’m not surprised that their half-assed approach is also evident in their vaccine manufacturing.

          2. From the Bloomberg:

            The material was intended for use in laboratories, and none of the lab workers have fallen ill . . . The H5N1 virus, “even if it were let out of the lab, would be only lethal for birds in its present state,” said Ilaria Capua, a veterinary virologist, whose laboratory in Padova, Italy, handles some of the avian-flu screening for the World Organization for Animal Health.

            You’re being somewhat hyperbolic (or intentionally misleading) about the Baxter/bird flu incident. Of course just reading your sentence it sounded like Baxter had somehow contaminated a shipment of vaccine sent out to consumers. Then I read the article and find out they accidentally shipped it to a laboratory where it was still undergoing testing and no one got sick and even if they did no one would have died.

            Yeah it’s a fuck up, but a fuck-up in a lab with a virus that isn’t lethal to humans is not quite almost causing a pandemic.

            Score real points if you can.

            1. Actually that’s not the whole story.

              The contaminated product, which Baxter calls “experimental virus material,” was made at the Orth-Donau research facility. Baxter makes its flu vaccine ? including a human H5N1 vaccine for which a licence is expected shortly ? at a facility in the Czech Republic.

              People familiar with biosecurity rules are dismayed by evidence that human H3N2 and avian H5N1 viruses somehow co-mingled in the Orth-Donau facility. That is a dangerous practice that should not be allowed to happen, a number of experts insisted.

              Accidental release of a mixture of live H5N1 and H3N2 viruses could have resulted in dire consequences.

              While H5N1 doesn’t easily infect people, H3N2 viruses do. If someone exposed to a mixture of the two had been simultaneously infected with both strains, he or she could have served as an incubator for a hybrid virus able to transmit easily to and among people.

              That mixing process, called reassortment, is one of two ways pandemic viruses are created.

              There is no suggestion that happened because of this accident, however.

              “We have no evidence of any reassortment, that any reassortment may have occurred,” said Andraghetti.

              The comment about it being a risk to local birds is true, unless it would have undergone a process of resortment–which was entirely possible–in which case far more than local birds would have been affected.

              More to the point:

              The material was intended for use in laboratories, and none of the
              lab workers have fallen ill. The incident is drawing scrutiny over
              the safety of research using the H5N1 bird flu strain that’s killed
              more than three-fifths of the people known to have caught the bug
              worldwide. Some scientists say the 1977 Russian flu, the most recent
              global outbreak, began when a virus escaped from a laboratory.



        2. BECAUSE WE CAN ONLY POST TWO LINKS IN A COMMENT, here we go again:

          No matter what, when it comes to vaccines, you should never, ever, get warm fuzzies.

          Do keep in mind that Baxter, one of the 5 main producers of the vaccine, almost started a pandemic all by itself in February. It’s also been busted defrauding Medicaid. To assist with the rush to make enough vaccine, Baxter and others were proactively granted legal immunity by the USGovt.

        3. The methods used to produce vaccine are either:
          1) kill it with formaldehyde; or
          2) insert a gene or two into a weakened flu strain.

          Both of these methods are just a way to deliver the antigen to your immune system. The delay in vaccine production comes (partly) from the slow-growing nature of this particular strain. Also, compared to the rest of pharma, the vaccine business is a low margin sideshow. The big players act as government contractors most of the time, which is why US flu vaccine manufacturing capacity is about 20% of demand.

          Worrying about the vaccine’s safety because of production delays is like worrying about the safety of whole wheat bread when Kansas has a wet summer.

          1. For some reason I am reminded of the Salem witch hunts and the theory that ricon played a role…

          2. like worrying about the safety of whole wheat bread when Kansas has a wet summer

            Many people *like* moldy bread. 😉

            Seriously — thanks, guys.

    3. there have been shortages and other problems with the supply of regular flu vaccine in recent years, have you forgotten?

  6. They’re just trying to cover up the fact that a plane crashed and released Trixie into the water supply. Business as usual at the CDC.

  7. I want to assure everyone that nothing you read here: www . 24ahead. com can be believed.

    But if you’ve been reading this site for more than a week, you already know that.

    Fuck off and die, Lonewacko.

    1. But if you’ve been reading this site for more than a week, you already know that.

      Or if you have half a brain or the analytical skills of a six-year-old.

      1. Six-year-olds everywhere are offended by your insultingly low estimate of their analytical skills.

    2. Ergo my QFT @ 3:44PM

  8. Sounds like the CDC is using the same methods that are used to count AIDS victims in Africa, put everyone who can possibly fit under any symptoms of AIDS in the count and then ask for as much money as possible based on inflated numbers

    1. Or the way ACT-UP counts them here.

    2. I’m old enough to remember the original AIDS-epidemic “crisis” in America.
      Said the MSM: “It’s not just for gays any more!”
      Weren’t we all supposed to be dead by now?

  9. Shut the fuck up, Lonewacko.

  10. Shut the fuck up, LoneWacko.

    1. Callate, El Homosexual Grecio.

  11. I have found the best way to prevent getting the flu every year is to get the flu about every 7-10 years or so.

    Works pretty good.

  12. Moderated Comments?! Wtf??

    1. Yeah, I just tried to post and was told my comment looked like spam and thus would be moderated. I was only trying to add the two links that I had to cull since my four links were two over the limit. Balls.

      1. Quit your bitching. Threaded comments more than compensate for the rest of this new crap.

        1. I don’t recall complaining about threaded comments. Wait, let me check. …Nope, I didn’t. But thank you for responding, you can retrieve your comment in the dustbin.

          1. I’ll do it for you.

            Adnotatiunculae bilicis delenda est.

          2. Well if you aren’t going to complain about threaded comments i sure as hell am.


  13. Yikes. Look, every flu case in the US cannot be tested for the H1N1 genome, it’s just too expensive. However, every case of flu that HAS been tested so far has been type A flu and every one of those that has gone on to genotyping HAS been H1N1 so far. The “regular” flu season hasn’t really started yet. So it is not a leap to classify all the deaths as H1N1. Yes, it would be better to test them all but come on, there are more interesting conspiracy theories out there.

    1. The blurb of the article doesn’t mention the real reason why no one’s flu testing: Testing won’t change treatment, so what’s the point?
      The flu swab is a dreadfully insensitive and nonspecific test- so that’s out. Too many false positives and false negatives.
      The PCR test is expensive and takes 4 days for results to come back- so it is entirely useless because the testing won’t change the treatment. If a person has flu symptoms and falls in a high-risk group, they will begin tamiflu treatment before the result comes back and regardless of the result (even if the test is negative).

    2. Oh yeah- regular flu kills 20-30K per year.

  14. In soviet America swine flu tracks you.

  15. Swine Flu: The Mystery Epidemic

    Is that a riff off “The Other White Meat”?

    Forgive my laggardly pace.

  16. They may be ceasing testing because most rational doctors had already stopped testing except on cases requiring serious medical attention. The word from both our pedes guy for my son and internal guy for my wife was “if you’ve got flu-like symptoms right now, it’s H1N1, and testing is just an unnecessary expense”.

    And when you’ve got a flu bug that’s going gangbusters in September in Texas, it’s pretty easy to rule out other stuff. You’re not going to have multiple strains that can pull that off.

    Long story short – yeah, it makes sense to call off the testing. No point in testing millions of people for a bug that’s pretty clearly gone pandemic (in terms of infection rate, not lethality).

  17. Why are we blogging about this when we should be talking about SARS and the Bird Flu?

    1. That was last year’s panic. Do try to keep current on your manufactured emergencies.

  18. Just because I choose not to impale myself on pharma’s dirty needle doesn’t make me an antivax nutjob.

    There is something impressive about that statement. I nominate it for quote of the day.

    1. True. But not impaling yourself etc. doesn’t exactly rule out antivax nutjobbery, either.

      1. Nope. It’s like saying “Just because I’m going to RIP YOUR THROAT OUT if I don’t have a cigarette RIGHT NOW doesn’t mean I’m an addict.” Like I said, impressive.

        1. I second your nomination. I second it because it is an impressive quote (which makes sense because I am one impressive pillar of awesomeness).

          And humble too.

          1. Impressive in its implication of almost certain nutjobbery in denial, to clarify.

            1. That was obvious, no need to clarify. And thank you for the good thoughts, even if your opinion is meaningless to me.

  19. Obamas kids: no vaccine: why?

    1. source/link?

    2. Are Obama’s children either pregnant women or medical first responders? Because currently that’s who’s getting it in Texas.

  20. Am I the only one who feels like this is all some kind of weird obedience test?

    See what percentage of the population will do what the government tells them to in any manufactured “emergency”.

  21. lol. Government incompetence strikes again.

    I don’t want these people in charge of paper bags.

  22. I think they stopped testing and reporting because it is similar in terms of symptoms to the regular seasonal flu and it is also treated with the same antiviral drugs. people forget that there are deaths every year from regular flu.

  23. There have been 33 deaths in the US in 2009 from lightning strikes (according to the NWS), what is the government going to do about that?

  24. This is true – I’m an RN on a pediatric unit of a Detroit-area hospital, and while we test children on our unit w/flu symptoms for Influenza A&B, we do NOT test for H1N1 – even if H1N1 is suspected. When I asked our Chief of Pediatrics why we weren’t testing for H1N1, he stated that it “takes too long” and that the patient is usually discharged by the time we get the results back. I was shocked, and then asked him about the CDC and the State Health Department’s numbers, e.g., didn’t they want to keep track since this is such a “big deal”..? His response was that the CDC just takes a “random sampling” (whatever that means). So the numbers are bullsh*t, basically. As for the cases of “suspected” H1N1 I have seen at work thus far – ALL of these patients have recovered (with the same treatment we give for the “regular” flu) and have gone home. This whole hype and “national emergency” are a scam to make money for big pharma and its investors.

    1. I too work in hospital, and when one of my coworkers children came ill, they were classified as H1N1 with no testing whatsoever. Then, because her children “had the swine flu”, she was pressured to take several days off. To people unfamiliar with the fact that her children had undiagnosed declarations, her unexpected time away from work served to increase the hype in the hallways.

  25. I am starting to be of the mindset that this will get turned into a case for “universal healthcare” if it hasn’t passed by Thanksgiving.

    Maybe this is the tinfoil hat talking, but you have an agency that has stopped trying to get a number on a “pandemic”, a (p)resident who declares this a “National Emergency”, and a healthcare bill in the congress that has stalled for months after the (p)resident demanded it be on his desk.

    1. Many people have expressed the same conjecture as yourself. I don’t think it’s so much “tinfoil hat thinking” as much as an acknowledgment that powerful players can and do use certain means to achieve their desired consensus. Call it the Hegelian Dialectic, call it Realpolitik, whatever.

  26. Clarification- I do not believe the (p)resident has formally declared a National Emergency, but he has used those words in front of the press.

  27. Near as I can tell, this is just a particularly hardy strain of what’s otherwise a mostly regular flu. I’ve been pretty soundly exposed and didn’t come down with it, so I’m guessing I got exposed to some variant back in my wee years. Seems like it’s not particularly virulent if your immune system is already primed for it.

    We took it seriously because my wife’s on immunosupressors, so she’s in the higher-risk category for it, but she ended up coming through with no lasting ill effects – just felt like shit for a good week and a half.

    What gets me about this bug is that it’s SO easy to spread. Normal flu can’t get a foot in the door until November, and doesn’t really get going until December/January in Texas, but this thing went gangbusters right up until the kids came home from school in June, and then picked up with a vengeance as soon as they went back last month. It hit a good 10% of my kid’s school every week starting in September, in 90 degree, high-humidity weather, which is pretty much best case scenario for regular flu.

    They did test my wife, and she definitely had it, but that was about when all the doctors around here started to say “Fuck it, everyone’s coming back positive, so what’s the point of testing? It doesn’t change the treatment, so why bother?” Again, they only tested Mrs. Lunchstealer because she was in the high-risk group.

  28. I ended up in the ER over the weekend. I passed out from dehydration. I tested flu positive. The ER say it costs too much to test for H1N1, so it just tests for flu.
    Does this sounds like B.S. to anyone else?
    Also-I’m having an autoimmune flare. The doctor took down my immune system without vaccinating me first-The ER knew I was steroids and didn’t give me Tamiflu.

    I hope I don’t end up a statistic for the CDC

  29. I’m hoping it does gallop across the country and infect everyone… then we will see who has the BEST Immune system! imagine…if millions did die from the “dreaded H1n1” or killer flu…ohhhhhhhhhhh

    We wouldn’t have to worry about a health care issue.


    I’m all for a plague.

    – Medic001

  30. umm sickntired..tamiflu is snake oil.

  31. lunchstealer… there is a reason regular FLU dosn’t set in until NOV.

    Thats when most clinics start to vaccinate.

    – You figure out the rest.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.