Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The swine NA Mexican* flu inflection point...

There is an analogy to economic activity and swine flu contagion that could be useful as we try to imagine the course of this disease.

A similar prevalence pattern among humans is likely to be true for the swine flu.
The initial spread of the disease among humans occurred when precautions were low. Now that we know that the disease is spreading, private individuals and corporations around the world have already taken steps to protect themselves, and these steps will eventually help slow further spread of the disease.
Individuals and corporations try to protect themselves and their employees, but they do not have good incentives to protect others. For this reason, government assistance can be valuable, and help make the disease cycle occur with a lower and less costly peak than it would with private actions alone.
Nevertheless, government efforts have the effect of reducing private efforts. The private sector does less to prevent a disease’s spread when the disease is less prevalent, and government assistance can help reduce prevalence, so government assistance will likely cause the private sector to do less to prevent a disease’s spread. This is a special type of the “crowding out” that happens with many kinds of government spending.
The swine flu may soon present our government with some tough choices: how many tax dollars to spend and how much to interrupt civil liberties. The public and taxpayers will benefit if those choices are sensitive to the critical role played by the private sector. [More]

Has the swine flu reached the "threat" level sufficient to change your personal planning?  For example, our long-time friends in our dinner club (The Greater Chrisman Area Fine Food and Swill Club**) were planning a cruise to the western Caribbean this July.  The cruise line just announced it was stopping all visits to Mexico. (In our case, Cozumel)  

For that matter, have you altered your grain marketing plans?

At any rate, when more people begin to take protective measures on their own (watching CNN constantly does not count) I think we approach the inflection point that will mark the peak of the contagion. It could come sooner because of our vastly improved communications system.

On a related front, a long-time reader points out swine flu is really misnamed.  
I am writing to inform you about the current situation with A/H1N1 influenza-like human illness in Mexico and the USA . The OIE is of the view that as this virus has not, for the moment, been isolated in pigs or other animals, it is not appropriate to call it ‘swine influenza'. The OIE recommends that the virus be referred to as ‘North American influenza', in keeping with the naming of other outbreaks of influenza in the human population. Nonetheless, this emerging disease is genetically linked, amongst others, with H1N1 swine influenza and the OIE is calling for scientific research to be started with urgency to assist in clarifying the sources and the risks presented by this virus to veterinary public health and to the different animal species (pigs, poultry and horses). [More]
In fact, I heard the same argument made on the Today show this morning. I agree but my feeling is that battle was lost several years ago when the the H1N1 strain was first isolated.

This is pretty common with disease names.  Once a name is widely accepted it seldom can be rectified with serious lecturing or relentless public relations campaigns.
[*Update: more folks want to change the name]

Consider the tiresome (and inaccurate) campaign to call the estate tax the "death tax". It also didn't work for Prince, remember.

(**Yes, that is our actual "official" name.)


From Virginia said...

I find the relentless news coverage annoying. We routinely have bouts of influenza, and yes, sadly, a certain number of people with weaker immune systems die. There is nothing to suggest today that we are about to experience something of the magnitude of the 1918 epidemic. There is little government can do about it, and mostly, people need to exercise some common sense.

As someone who has watched repeated bouts of avian influenza spread through the poultry industry despite despite concentrated efforts to contain it, I seriously doubt the effectiveness of any government control of similar outbreaks among humans, who are not raised in controlled environments!

John Phipps said...


Point taken. But there is a case to be made, as mentioned above that the annoying stream of news perhaps induces preventative individual behavior earlier than probably in really warranted and thereby slows the speed of contagion.

Anonymous said...

John,thanks for promoting responsible reporting-journalism-regards-kevin