- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

Wesley Pruden, writing of the 7 percent mortality rate currently seen among Mexican victims of swine flu, states that this rate is “not exactly the most lethal flu virus we’ve ever seen” (“A pandemic of panic - are we dead yet?” Nation, Tuesday). Actually, it is, and by a very large margin.

The most lethal flu pandemic of which we have factual knowledge is the so-called Spanish flu of 1918. The low-end estimate is that 40 million people were killed by this flu pandemic around the world - in a single year. As noted in John M. Barry’s book “The Great Influenza,” the mortality rate of the Spanish flu was 2 percent. (The mortality rate of the normal annual flu is a fraction of 1 percent.) The Spanish flu is the worst pandemic killer in recorded history, even worse than the Black Death of Europe.

The figures coming out of Mexico are more than a bit sketchy. It will take at least a few more days to verify the actual infection and mortality rates of the new swine flu. However, if, indeed, it does have a mortality rate of 7 percent, it will have over three times the mortality rate of the Spanish flu. Not good.

This is why the health authorities are so concerned. This is why they are taking serious steps, even in the early stages when the available data are still so sketchy. This is why Mr. Pruden’s column is so irresponsible and dangerous: By misrepresenting the statistics he cites, he encourages people to ignore the threat.

Think about this for a minute: Seven percent is about one person in 15. Have you ever experienced an illness that killed one person out of every 15 infected? That’s worse than the mortality rate from combat for the Union troops in the Civil War.

I hope that soon we will determine the true mortality rate of the new swine flu. If it is well below 1 percent, that’s one thing. On the other hand, if it is 2 percent or higher, then we are in Spanish flu range, which does not bode well. If it is actually 7 percent, we will be in a lot of trouble. Let’s hope (and pray) for a lower number, but let us prepare for a worse scenario.


Executive vice president and director of research

Professional Services Group Inc.

New York City

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