In 2009, no-one died

As a consequence of a series of deaths from influenza in one of the world's most polluted and overcrowded cities, the media are squawking away about how Swine Flu is going to kill us all. I apologize to the fictional Keith Mandemant for plagiarizing his beautiful dialogue from The Day Today, but it seemed the only appropriate response:

In 1918, before mass media hysteria existed properly, Spanish Flu came along. Someone died. Ever since then, probably through annoyance at having not been around to exploit such a wonderful opportunity for gratuitous sensationalizing, our friends in the media have tried their utmost to scare us witless.

In 1997, every cow in Britain had contracted Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and therefore the carnivores among us were going to get vCJD and watch our brains melt. No-one died. (1)

In 2002, any child who had the MMR vaccine was guaranteed to turn autistic and then keel over and snuff it. No-one died. (2)

In 2003, SARS came along and we were all going to choke and gasp and splutter our final breaths. No-one died. (3)

In 2004, there was the incident with the pigeon. H5N1 sounded like a deranged robotic bird of death that would probably peck us into oblivion. Senior WHO public health expert David Nabarro apparently said:

“I’m not, at the moment, at liberty to give you a prediction on numbers, but I just want to stress, that, let’s say, the range of deaths could be anything from 5 to 150 million.”

No-one died. (4)

In 2006, mutant mosquitoes were swarming across the globe, infected with West Nile Virus and ready to blast us to smithereens. No-one died. (5)

I mean I could go on.

Having said all that, I will probably now get swine flu and die and the news editor of the Daily Mail will come round to the cemetery and dance about on my grave singing hallelujah. But that would serve me right for having evolved the wrong genes.

(1) In the UK, over the 20 years from 1990-2009, 164 people are confirmed to have died of vCJD. To put this into some sort of context, 164 is also the number of children who die of unintentional injury in Maryland every year.

(2) MMR -

(3) Being that "Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome" is tautological, SARS is really ARS. And what a load of ARS the uninformed, unscientific media spewed out. The WHO report that, over the period 1st Nov 2002-31st July 2003, 774 people died of SARS. 774 is the average number of road deaths in Wisconsin annually*.

(4) According to the World Health Organization, avian influenza has killed 257 people globally. Coincidentally, this is precisely the same number of people who die of smoking-related illnesses in the Blackburn district of Lancashire each year.

(5) In 2006, in the US, with a population of over 250,000,000 people**, there were 4,269 reported cases of West Nile virus, with an estimated 177 people dying. By my noddy calculations, this gave each American a 1 in 1.4 million chance of dying of the virus in 2006. Apparently, this is also the probability of hitting four home runs in a row in a Major League baseball game.

*this number dropped in 2008, partly as a consequence of high oil prices, rather ironically. So if you hear an American bleating about how much they have to pay for gasoline, shut them up by telling them it might well help reduce their likelihood of dying in a Road Traffic Accident.

**actually more like 300,000,000, now I've looked into it.