Monday, October 5, 2009

More scary Swine Flu numbers

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are somewhere between 80,000 and 85,000 hospital beds in Australia - that's public & private hospitals combined, and all types of beds (acute care, emergency, etc etc, but excluding stretchers & trolleys & other 'temporary' beds that could be pressed into service in an emergency).

Why is that relevant?

Well, I was thinking about the numbers in the previous post.

If 36,670 people got swine flu, and 4,806 needed to be admitted to hospital, that right there is 5% of all the hospital beds in Australia taken up by sufferers of this one disease. On top of what it frequently stated to be a strained & overloaded health system.

So we do a thought experiment. Lets say that, next flu season, the swine flu comes around again after incubating & mutating up north in the northern hemisphere winter. So, by the middle of next year (the beginning of Australia's traditional flu season), we might see as many cases again. What if it then really breaks out, and infects a mere 10% of the Australian population?

That's 2.2 million cases. If the ratios stay the same, that means at least 10,979 people would die (which, all by itself will increase the death rate in Australia by about 10% for 2010).

I say "at least", because it also means that 288,000 people would need hospital treatment. That's three and a half times as many sick patients as we have hospital beds in this country. I suspect that, in this scenario, many of them would die, because the health system wont cope, and seriously ill people wouldn't be able to get the treatment they need to pull through.

In such a scenario, we might easily see more than 100,000 deaths attributable to swine flu - that's one person out of every twenty in the country.

Think of your circle of friends, colleagues, neighbours. Which ones do you think would die? Yes, there are 'more vulnerable' people, due to pre-existing health conditions, but there's also a surprising number of otherwise young-and-healthy victims with this flu.

Now imagine that 20%, 30%, or even 50% of the population catches this flu.

I'm really starting to appreciate why the government is buying enough vaccine to treat every person in the country!

Tell you what, it'd make the whole GFC thing look like a frikkin' walk in the park...


Shobu said...

Interesting; we are entering flu season here soon in Chicago, however, so far the swine flu has a virulence similar to that of regular flu, which I believe over 30k worth of people succumb to yearly here. (The US, not Chicago) The preparation governments are taking is impressive,and everyone should get vaccinated if they can, however, I'll be mildly suprised if this makes the flu season a lot worse then usual. We'll see though; hopefully we are all over prepared.

Bern said...

Actually, regular flu has a death rate of something like 0.07% (that's 7 in 1000). Swine flu is more like 0.5%, or 50 in 1000, so far - about 7 times the lethality rate. And if the medical system gets overwhelmed by cases, it could get a lot worse in a hurry!

Also consider that regular flu tends to only kill the sick, the elderly, or the very young (i.e. those with already-compromised immune systems).

Swine flu isn't so discriminating so far, which also makes it more like the 1918 Spanish Flu - it's been killing young & otherwise healthy people, too.

So, yeah, I'm hoping we're all over-prepared. Unfortunately, if it's contained & the death rate is low, the general public will see that as evidence that it was never a threat, rather than that the preventative measures actually worked...