H1N1 – a real scare?

Over the last few months, one of the dominant stories in the evening headlines has been about this new strain of influenza, H1N1. I don’t know much about it so I decided to spend a few minutes taking a look at some of the details. To be honest, I’ve been thinking about the scares over the last few years – remember SARS, Y2K, terrorism. How much of these are things to be truly scared of, how many are tempests in a teacup? Remember Y2K – according to pretty much every major news source and media commentator, the world as we knew it was going be changed forever. SARS was promoted as a global epidemic. Neither of these amounted to anything. It seems like we live in a state of fear with a major global ‘scare’ coming along every year or two to keep us in check.

The Centre for Disease Control in the US states that in the US, about 36,000 people die each year from flu-related complications; globally this number increases to almost 500,000. Worldwide, someone dies from tuberculosis every 15 seconds – 240 per hour. The WHO states that as of 17 Oct 09 there have been 5000 reported deaths worldwide from H1N1 in 2009 which equates to roughly 0.75 of a person per hour. The United Nations website states that about 25,000 people die each DAY from malnutrition – 1041 per hour compared to 0.75 people per hour for H1N1. Remember SARS? Again, the WHO reports that worldwide about 774 people died from SARS – the same number die from malnutrition in less than 1 hour. In the US, nearly 7000 people die per day from all causes – to date for 2009, H1N1 is responsible for 0.0107% of the total deaths in the US each day, an amount not even worth calculating. You have a better chance (0.70% of all deaths) of being murdered in the USA than dying of H1N1.

These numbers obviously beg the question why we (governments) are spending billions on fighting H1N1 while thousands of times more people are dying from a much simpler condition – they just don’t have enough to eat. Would not this money be better used to improve farming, water supply, machinery and ‘know how’ for farmers around the world? While I respect the fact that health professionals and the media are suggesting that pregnant women or young children and other “at-risk” groups make sure they have a H1N1 shot, I must admit that I am very skeptical about the motives behind the promotion of such a “pandemic” mentality regarding the condition. What I do believe, however, is the profit motive. If you’ve ever read about Monsanto or other multinationals, you know that profit is the only motive and everything else, including truth, is subservient to the ultimate goal of generating shareholder return. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 2 approved treatments for H1N1, known by their trade names, Tamiflu and Relenza. Although under licence with a number of different companies, pharmaceutical giant Roche is the primary owner of Tamiflu while GlaxoSmithKline owns Relenza. Not only do these companies have a monopoly on supply of the H1N1 flu shot, in many cases, governments around the world (including Canada) have actually given Roche and Glaxo immunity from law suits should people receiving the shot develop one of many disturbing side effects. These companies aren’t ‘evil’ in and of themselves; they are just driven to provide a product and generate a return on investment for their shareholders. Putting an end to malnutrition doesn’t make money; providing millions of doses of a drug does.

As noted, I’m not a health care professional or scientist and I admit I am probably not seeing all sides of the H1N1 furor. It will be interesting to see how big an ‘issue’ H1N1 turns out to be – will it in turn into a true pandemic such as the Black Death of the mid 1400s or the influenza outbreak in 1918 or will it fade into the abyss like SARS?

Sources: GlaxoSmithKline, Roche Pharmaceuticals, CDC.gov, UN.org, WHO.int, CIA Factbook, National Vital Statistics USA,

Categories: Commentary, General interest | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “H1N1 – a real scare?

  1. Chanace

    Well written Ben.

  2. Great job Ben. You’ve given us lots to think about, that’s for sure. Dad

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