The initial description of the pandemic H1N1 virus coming out of Mexico was of a virus that preferentially killed young people, at a much higher rate than seasonal flu. The only other flu virus to do this was the one that caused the 1918 pandemic. The estimates of the death rate in Mexico were consistent with a severe pandemic.
When the virus entered the United States, nearly everyone who was identified as infected was treated with Tamiflu. Naturally, most of these people survived. However, instead of attributing the initial low death rate in the US to timely intervention against a potentially lethal virus, the CDC was quick to downplay the danger posed by the new H1N1.
From Reuters, May 3, 2009
There are “encouraging signs” that the new H1N1 virus that has raised concerns of a pandemic is no more dangerous than routine seasonal flu viruses that circulate annually, a top U.S. health official said on Sunday. Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also defended actions taken by U.S. authorities in trying to limit the impact of the new swine flu virus, saying there has not been an over-reaction. “With seasonal flu, something that hits us every year, we see 36,000 (U.S.) deaths. Here, we’re seeing encouraging signs that this virus so far is not looking more severe than a strain that we would see during seasonal flu,” Besser told “Fox News Sunday.”
To justify limited use of antivirals, Dr. Schuchat of the CDC suggested that most people would have mild symptoms.
From: CDC Telebriefing on Investigation of Human Cases of Novel Influenza A (H1N1), June 26, 2009
Anne Schuchat: Yes, thank you. In the U.S., our antiviral recommendations are based on the observation that the vast majority of people who get this new virus have illness that is mild and clears on its own or they have illness that gets better.
But in a leaked brief to CDC Director Frieden on July 16, 2009, it was revealed that the CDC had internal data indicating much higher case fatality rates than they had disclosed to the public:
- 0 -4 years: 0.17%
- 5-24 years: 0.22%
- 25-49 years: 1.5%
- 50-64 years: 3.33%
- 65 years and over: 5.24%
These sobering numbers didn’t have any effect on Director Frieden’s public assurances.
From: The Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2009
“The good news is that so far, everything that we’ve seen, both here and abroad, shows that the virus has not changed to become more deadly,” said Thomas Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That means that although it may affect lots of people, most people will not be severely ill.”
But now, reality is starting to intrude on the CDC’s messaging.
From the AP, October 16, 2009
The swine flu is causing an unprecedented amount of illness for this early in the fall, with the deaths of 11 more children reported in the past week. And less vaccine than expected will be ready by month’s end, federal health officials said Friday.
Of the 86 children who have died since the new swine flu arose last spring, 43 deaths have been reported in September and early October alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. That’s a startling number because in some past winters, the CDC has counted 40 or 50 child deaths for the entire flu season — and no one knows how long this swine flu outbreak will last.
“These are very sobering statistics,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat.
Yes, Dr. Schuchat, but you knew these “sobering” statistics would be coming back in July. And you and Dr. Frieden said nothing. You didn’t revise the Tamiflu recommendations, even though you knew CDC guidelines were killing children. You didn’t recommend that schools should close, even though you knew children and teachers would die.
You and Dr. Frieden have blood on your hands. The blood of innocents.