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Swine Flu In Perspective
Eric De Place, 30 Apr 09

150 deaths is just another day on the highway.


Not to belittle anyone's anxiety about the swine flu, but I'm feeling a little peevish this morning. Today's newspaper headlines are screaming that the global death toll appears to have surpassed 150, including the first death outside of Mexico. As a consequence, countries are banning imports, setting up travel restrictions, and scrambling public health resources. Everyone's going code-red.

But 150 deaths -- the swine flu grand total to date -- is just a bad day on the highways of the US and Canada. Day and in day out, North America racks up an average of about 1 traffic fatality every 12 minutes, to total about 42,000 in the US and approximately 3,000 in Canada annually. And according to one estimate, global traffic fatalities are in the neighborhood of 800,000 people per year!

Don't get me wrong, 150 deaths is awful. And if there's a chance that swine flu could turn into a global pandemic then we should definitely be marshalling all available resources.

What bugs me is that when it comes to traffic fatalities, few people really notice... or even care. Maybe you'll see an occasional headline on page B-6 or maybe not. That's despite the fact that car collisions are the leading cause of death in the US under the age of 45. Vehicles injure or cripple many multiples of the tens of thousands that they kill, often in the prime of life. To say nothing of the secondary health effects of driving that include worsened air quality and rising obesity rates.

So where's the outrage? Where's the alarm? Why isn't the World Health Organization issuing a high-alert to nations everywhere. Stay out of your cars! Stop driving! Stop spending billions of dollars to design high-speed death corridors in the hearts of your major cities!

I suppose that will happen about the time that pigs fly.

This piece originally appeared in Sightline Institute's blog, The Daily Score.

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The other kind of odd thing is that apparently 36,000 people die from influenza each year which is an average about 101 per day normally.

Posted by: jr on 30 Apr 09

Well, yes, the numbers to date aren't that big in the scheme of things.

The problem is that the rate is likely to be the flatter end of an exponential growth curve if the 'novel flu' really takes off, and *that* is why people are nervous.

(Check the weekly mortality patterns from the plague in London in 1665. We would be at the far left of the graph at the moment... and yes, different disease, different epedimiology, different level of understanding)

Hopefully, the 'overreaction' proves to be a case of a self-preventing prophecy.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 30 Apr 09


1. Blame the swine flu pandemic as a wrath of God for allowing gay marriages.

2. Lobby for prayers in schools to help appease God.

3. Back the anti-gun control lobby arguing that guns will be needed to cull pigs.

4. Have the CIA waterboard pig farmers in Kansas and Iowa.

5. Deny the swine flu pandemic (along with global warming and evolution).

6. Blame the "MSM" for scaremongering. Listen to Faux News "experts" like Hannity, O'Reilly, Savage, as well as Rush Limbaugh (the pig).

7. Lobby for more tax cuts for the rich as "free market solutions" to the swine flu pandemic.

8. Have Dick Cheney and Harry Whittington go off on a swine-hunt.

9. Get Sarah Palin to shoot some pigs from a helicopter.

10. Declare Mexico a "terrorist state", start Gulf War-III (in he Gulf of Mexico).

Posted by: Sanjoy Das on 30 Apr 09

It's true. We tend to worry about the wrong things. But I suppose we think that if we are careful drivers we have some control in whether we will die in a traffic accident. A contagious disease makes us feel a lack of control.

Posted by: Rhea on 1 May 09

see this link - a portrait serie about Swire Flu

Posted by: okin on 1 May 09

The swine flu is a joke right now... There was over 30,000 deaths last year from influenza and we didn't hear about that at all. Just wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough.

Posted by: Derek on 18 May 09

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