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October 03, 2005

More on the numbers game

Dr. Bob Gleeson, MD, FACP, has sent me a short and sensible comment on forecasts of flu mortality:

I do not presume to know how many people will die in the coming pandemic; no one does. But the math is straight-forward enough that you can substitute any reasonable number you want:

•Assume the population of the US is 300 million.

•In a typical flu epidemic, 25% of the population becomes ill. Now we have 75 million ill Americans.

an vary the percentage of the population who become ill, but the range is usually 25% to 30%.

•A virus kills a certain flat percentage of those who are ill. The question is only whether this virus kills 0.1%, 1%, the 2.5% that it killed in 1918, or some higher number. This gives us a death count of 75,000; 750,000; 2,250,000; or higher, respectively.

•Currently, the virus is killing 50% of those who are hospitalized. Hopefully, that is not the same as 50% of those infected, which is a larger number that we do not yet know. The entire outcome of this pandemic, if and when it happens, will depend on how much killing power the virus loses in its genetic trade to gain H2H transmissibility.

You can also vary the percentage of people who become ill enough to require hospitalization, but the data here is more speculative.

I am a physician who studies risk and life expectancy.

Dr. Gleeson is also the author of What Healthy People Know, available at his own website.

Posted by dymaxion at October 3, 2005 01:02 PM

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