Casting Pearls Before Swine

David Brooks agrees with Tyler Cowen: The best defense is a decentralized approach to pandemics. Then there is this worrisome reminder about pandemics of the past:

Influenza pandemics have occurred as far back in history as we can look, but the four we know about in detail happened in 1889, 1918, 1957 and 1968…… The worst influenza pandemic, in 1918, killed 675,000 in the United States. And although no one has a reliable worldwide death toll, the lowest reasonable number is about 35 million, and some scientists believe it killed as many as 100 million – at a time when the world’s population was only a quarter of what it is today.

In all four instances, the gap between the time the virus was first recognized and a second, more dangerous wave swelled was about six months.

Melinda Beck reminds us of the 1976 swine flu fiasco, in which 40 million people were vaccinated. Number of people killed by the flu: 1. Number of people killed by the vaccine: 25.¬†Henry Miller recounts that China’s attempt to control avian flu in 2006 actually made things worse. To keep this in perspective, the Wall Street Journal reminds us that:

Some 36,000 Americans and a million people world-wide die each year from the common flu.

Comments (3)

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  1. Nancy says:

    This entire development is very worrisome.

  2. Stephen C. says:

    Overall conclusion: People pursuing their own safety produce a spontaneous order that is far more protective than organized government efforts.

  3. bangkok pete says:

    With the UK confirming two cases of swine flu and the World Health Organization raising its alert level from three to four, the threat does sound quite serious.