Friday, May 1, 2009

Flu risk perception

My understanding about the 1918 flu is that the first wave had few deaths, and those deaths followed standard pattern of seasonal flu: elderly and very young. The second wave came several months later and was a slightly changed form that had higher mortality, mostly in the healthiest age group, ages 20-40. These people didn't get it the first time around, so they were vulnerable in the second wave when it was more dangerous.

My question: is it possible that all these extreme measures such as closing schools --- e.g., Harvard closed down medical, dental, and public health schools today because of a case in the dental school --- will make the flu epidemic worse rather than better by inducing precaution fatigue and decreasing credibility of preventative measures such as vaccines and shutting down institutions so that when the flu is really serious people will assume it will be low mortality as it is now?

If this follows pattern of 1918, by the time the second scary wave of flu comes around, we will have a vaccine, perhaps even in adequate numbers to cover much of the population, but there's no vaccine for human irrationality. Everyone is getting all fired up now --- lots of parents kept their kids home at a local school here in suburban Baltimore due to 1 case in the school.

When the same thing happens next October or November, will people reason it's not important to be careful since last time turned out okay? Will people not bother to get the vaccine?

1 comment:

jonathan said...

We just had a conversation with a friend the other day along the same lines. He said, "I want to get swine flu NOW, while it's still mild! Let's have swine flu parties where we get everyone together with people who have been to Mexico recently, so we can catch it now, and get over it before the second wave hits."

He was only half kidding.