Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fear sells

I got an e-mail from my wife's aunt who wanted to know what I thought of a video she saw on YouTube. This is why I love her. At least she contacted me before buying into the whole thing. I will not do justice to the original video by sending you to it. It's seriously ridiculous. But basically, the gist of it is that a person posing as the former Chief Medical Officer of Finland claims that swine flu has been invented and released into the human population by the North American and Western elite to reduce the population of the world. The idea is that they release the swine flu, then they create mass fear, then they convince everyone to take the vaccine which they have previously poisoned and thus exterminate all the low life scums out there ruining our world. Aside from the base premise being completely ridiculous, this is how I responded to her question on my thoughts.

I did research the supposed "former chief medical officer of Finland". She was, in fact, only the provincial medical officer of Lapland, a province in Finland. Since retiring she has published such useful insights as "I've had my life saved three times by aliens", "schizophrenics are actually just vestiges of an earlier conspiracy to plant mind control microchips inside all the babies born in the mid-40s and the American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders for the sole purpose of labelling these microchipped individuals as pathological so they can be sequestered from society and shunned so that if they ever do reveal they have a mindchip people will think they're crazy", and the only reason she didn't remember her first experience with a UFO until being hypnotized at a much later date was because the aliens had placed a mental block on her to prevent her from exposing their whereabouts. Other such doozies follow below:

She claims to have met three kinds of aliens:

  • One that is "three feet tall, has a huge head and big black eyes, but no nose or teeth"
  • A second that "is like the first but has a large nose"
  • A third that "is about 12 feet tall, with a very small head and large dark glassy eyes" and "wear lab coats, gloves and hoods over their heads".
According to her the Nazis visited the moon in the 1940s and the Americans have already been on Mars.

Now aside from the intellectually ridiculous conceptual base of the entire video, I do agree that there is something wrong with swine flu. The media has done a very good job of making it a lot scarier than science would warrant. But it's not a conspiracy. It's standard's all about money. Fear sells papers and boosts ratings. Not to mention sales of alcohol based hand sanitizer, N95 masks and latex gloves. A lot of the fear is the fault of the public though. They take the word of unreputable sources at face value instead of using their own insight and fact finding. The term "pandemic" is really what has set people off. But if you look at the definition of a pandemic it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with severity of infection. It is a term that defines the ease of spread of an infection. Pandemics are further categorized by their severity, from 1 (least severe) to 5 (most severe). There are 3 characteristics an infection must have to be considered a pandemic.

1. It must be new to the population it is infecting
2. It must infect humans and cause illness
3. It must spread easily and sustainably among humans

That's it. Nothing in there denotes severity of infection. In fact, the most severe infectious diseases are unlikely to ever become pandemics because they kill their vectors too quickly. Ebola virus is a good example of that. It has a mortality rate of 50-90% and can kill in as quickly as 2 days. Plus, very close contact needs to occur for transmission, unlike with influenza with requires only respiratory droplet transmission, the most potent form of transmission.

The problem is that all this fear might cause an unforeseen consequence of swine flu. A study recently published and widely spread by the media came to the conclusion that getting the seasonal influenza vaccine would increase your risk of contracting severe swine flu. The study has more or less now been discredited by the respected medical community but because of this, many people, especially the elderly, are not going to get the flu shot. But the kicker is that even though seasonal flu is a category 1 pandemic with a fatality rate of less than 0.1%, it kills 250-500 thousand people a year. There have not even been 500 thousand CASES of swine flu yet, but we consider THIS to be the bigger public health threat. Hmmm. And the other kick in the ass is that because everyone is shitting their pants about it, a bunch of yahoos went out and got an antiviral medication at the height of the paranoia just to take for shits and giggles. Lo and behold, we now have an antiviral resistant strain of H1N1 floating around. Fantastic. We've just successfully morphed a virus against which we had at least two lines of defence into one with one less line of defence. Now all we have is the vaccine if we actually think this is something we need to protect ourselves again. But because of UFO girl and Jenny McCarthy, who goes around telling everyone that vaccines cause autism, no one is going to want to get the damn thing so we'll just let it run roughshod over the population causing more damage than it would otherwise. Vaccines are one of the safest and most remarkable public health achievements of our time. Why they've engendered such visceral fear in the public is beyond me. Worldwide, vaccines currently prevent roughly 2.5 million deaths worldwide. However, just as many deaths from vaccine-preventable illness occur each year because the vaccine is either not accessible or not given. Significant health risks of vaccines have basically been completely disproven in respectable medical literature yet persist in the informal literary universe of Google. Consider the chart from the WHO below:

Risk from disease versus risk from vaccines

Measles MMR
Pneumonia: 1 in 20 Encephalitis or severe allergic reaction: 1 in 1 million
Encephalitis: 1 in 2 000
Death: 1 in 3 000 in industrialized countries. As much as 1 in 5 in outbreaks in developing countries
Encephalitis: 1 in 300
Congenital Rubella Syndrome: 1 in 4 (if woman becomes infected in early pregnancy)
Diphtheria DTP
Death: 1 in 20 Continuous crying, then full recovery: 1 in 100
Tetanus Convulsions or shock, then full recovery: 1 in 1 750
Death: 25-70 in 100 overall. 10-20 in 100 with good intensive care management Acute encephalopathy: 0-10.5 in 1 000 000
Pertussis Death: None proven
Pneumonia: 1 in 8
Encephalitis: 1 in 20
Death: 1 in 200

So please, please, before making health decisions based on what you see on the news or what you read on Google or what you watch on YouTube, do some research. If you're not sure whether you're researching respectable sources, talk to a healthcare professional or scientist you trust. Have them look into it. Your health is worth the time and effort.

1 comment:

Stephanie Gour said...

I looked up the definition of pandemic on the WHO website a long time ago. I was shocked at how minor it actually was, considering what the media and some governments were making of it.
I think WHO made a bit of a mistake by overestimated the intelligence of the average human being. They should have brought out sock puppets, pretty pie charts, and done some sort of music video on youtube to get people to actually understand the situation.
Never use scientific words when speaking to the public.
Unless you're trying to sell yogurt.