Thursday, December 3, 2009 | Categories: Dr. Brian's Blog
Today, the World Health Organization is saying it's too soon to declare the H1N1 pandemic over. That's despite the fact that the number of infections and deaths are falling in Canada and in the United States. Dr. Feiji Fukuda, special advisor to WHO director-general on pandemic influenza, said in a news briefing "it's impossible to know now whether the spring will bring a third wave of infection."
At his own news briefing yesterday, Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, warned that H1N1 may have hit its peak but the risk of transmission remains high and millions of Canadians could still be infected.
"Passing a peak in activity doesn't mean we decrease our concern," Dr. Butler-Jones said. "Coming down the mountain can be just as treacherous as climbing it."
Then came the pitch to get vaccinated.
"Even if you are not personally worried about getting H1N1, for the sake of others around you, as well as your loved ones, please get your H1N1 flu shot," he said.
Look, I'm all for getting the vaccine. I've said that many times as the 'House Doctor' on CBC Radio One.
But I really think it's time Butler-Jones and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq stopped trying to get people to take the shot by peddling doom and gloom.
If they can repeat the doomsday stuff over and over again, let me repeat my message of calm. The death rate from H1N1 is far lower than what is seen annually with seasonal flu. Between two and eight thousand Canadians die annually from complications of seasonal flu. As of December 1, 2009, a total of 329 Canadians had died from H1N1 since the outbreak began last spring. Not only that, but according to FluWatch, the proportion of severe cases (ICU admissions and deaths among hospitalized cases was lower in the second wave than in the first wave.
As for all this talk regarding the peak, here's some more evidence for you to consider.
In Ontario, the second wave of the pandemic is clearly waning quickly. Last week, the percent positive specimens dropped below 10% at the Ontario Public Health Laboratory , and you can see the decline in flu admissions across Toronto. Admissions to ICU at Toronto hospitals are way down. There has been no seasonal influenza activity detected so far.
When the dust has settled on this pandemic, there'll be time to ask lots of questions about the danger (or lack thereof) and the way authorities handled it and marshalled public opinion. One of the things I think they need to focus on in a hurry is how major public health figures have framed this outbreak from the outset.
If they had adopted a more reassuring tone and said things like "hey, this isn't Armageddon, we're going to get through it, but if I were you I'd take the shot," I think more people would get it.
I don't know about you, but the more I hear messages of fear, the more I tune out.
If authorities want to know why Canadians aren't flocking to vaccine, they should take a good look at the mirror. And stop trying to freak us out.