Beware The Virologist’s Ego

April 27, 2009

One of the more predictable, and alarming things about events like this epidemic are the irresponsible and extremely scientifically dubious pronouncements from people who should, ostensibly, know better.

Take Dr John McCauley of the National Institute for Medical Research, who has been quoted by the media (rightly or wrongly) as saying that a Swine Flu pandemic could kill 120 million people, 70 million more than died in the 1918 epidemic.

McCauley also told reporters that “If you were going to have a pandemic this is how it would start. It emerges suddenly and infects a lot of people. It doesn’t look good but it’s an emerging situation.”

The current epidemic has a death rate of perhaps 2 percent – and probably far lower, as most mild cases go unreported. It has also proven receptive to treatment by widely available drugs (in rich countries at least). In the impoverished conditions of Mexico City the death rate can be expected to be higher than in London, for example, making any projections all but pointless.

Of course, he might be right, but what’s the point in feeding the latent hypocondria of the great British free paper-reading public at a sensitive time like this?


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