Normal Flu

Matthew Yglesias. Worth keeping in mind.

Normal Flu

If I were to say that this year 30,000 Americans would die from the flu, you’d probably think I was offering an alarmist take on the current swine flu outbreak. In fact, I would be offering an extremely optimistic take on influenza in 2009. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the country sees about 36,000 flu-related deaths in a normal year and around 200,000 hospitalizations. It’s standard for between five and twenty percent of the population to contract the flu in any given year.

Given all that, not only do we face the risk of an unusually bad pandemic of “swine flu” we also face a risk of panic. Apparently, very high levels of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are actually pretty normal. But the media doesn’t normally cover them as national news stories. The heightened awareness of swine flu risks, however, means that anything flu-related is going to get dramatically inflated attention.

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