Bustin' swine flu myths

By Phil Plait | October 13, 2009 10:25 am

Hey look, it’s a disgusting clip of My Close Personal Friend Adam Savage™!

Adam and Jamie made this short video to raise awareness about H1N1, the swine flu. Discovery Channel also put together a nice page with a list of five myths about swine flu.

There are more myths about the swine flu, of course, especially about the vaccine for it. These myths need to be busted too, so go read what pediatrician Dr. Joe Albietz has written about it. And then ask your doctor if you should get the vaccine when it becomes available. I’ll be getting one, and so will my whole family.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Debunking

Comments (22)

  1. !AstralProjectile

    Scary points Larian, although I got stuck parsing this:

    …a virulence of an order of magnitude of 100 times that observed for seasonal strains.

  2. bigjohn756

    Well overdone Mythbusters! That should get some people thinking, a little bit at least. I’ll be getting my vacs ASAP. I know I can’t outrun Adam’s juicy sneeze, or, anyone else s either. As an old fart with COPD, I know I am at risk even though the swine flu is more dangerous to youngsters. I’m getting both; after a two week break between them, of course.

  3. tacitus

    I don’t think it’s necessary to get overwrought about H1N1 just yet. There isn’t much evidence at this moment in time that H1N1 is going to cause far more deaths than the seasonal flu normally does. But that could change at any time, especially given the transmissability of the virus and the lack of immunity in the younger population.

    However, that said, I still have yet to see any good argument for why anyone should not get the H1N1 flu vaccine once it becomes available:

    — it’s just as safe as the regular flu vaccine — safety trials have been conducted (despite what some claim), in the US and Australia, and more and more people are getting it every day with no serious reaction. Also, it does not give you the flu.

    — there is no better protection against the H1N1 flu — unless you isolate yourself and become an inveterate hand washer. Dosing with vitamins doesn’t even come close to conferring the same amount of protection.

    — contrary to what many people claim, just because you haven’t gotten the flu “in decades” doesn’t mean that you have any special magical protection against the flu virus. You’ve just been lucky, that’s all. Many people are never exposed to the flu virus for years on end.

    — while the H1N1 flu is mild in many cases, it’s still killing hundreds of Americans (over 800 so far) and will kill thousands more even if it does not mutate. The flu vaccine itself will probably kill no one at all, out of tens of millions of doses. Why would you want to risk being one of the 30,000 or more Americans the H1N1 flu virus will likely kill over the next few months, just for the sake of avoiding feeling a little prick?

    — Afraid that the vaccine is part of a socialist plot to introduce national health care into America? First, do you think a McCain administration would be flying in the face of all the medical and scientific advice that we need the vaccine? Of course not. The H1N1 flu vaccination program would have happened under McCain as it is under Obama, even though there wouldn’t have been a health care debate going on (it was not even on McCain’s radar). But what it your worst nightmares were true, and this was a ruse to push through healthcare reform? Will refusing to take the vaccine make the slightest bit of difference? The H1N1 virus doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat — it will hit you just as hard either way. And unless you believe the vaccine has some magical mind altering drug that will turn you into a socialist, then you will be just as able to oppose health care reform after taking it. In fact, if only Democrats take the vaccine and the flu virus does turn deadly, there will be far fewer Republicans around to vote during the next election — so perhaps refusing to take the vaccine is playing into the hands of those evil socialists!!

  4. Sili

    Also: sneeze in your elbow, wash your hands compulsively, try not to touch doorhandles directly.

    /anecdotal evidence

  5. Excellent comments tacitus.

    My family – including my 3 year-old daughter just got the seasonal flu vaccine. We had to pump her up by promising her that ice cream would be her imminent reward for being brave and getting a shot . We’ll have too convince her yet again when the H1N1 vaccine is available.

  6. Excellent comments taticus.

    We had to promise ice cream to our three year-old daughter for being brave and getting her shot. How are we gonna explain that she needs a second shot when the H1N1 vaccine comes out? Two scoops.

  7. Michelle

    Already had the H1N1 along with as my kids (yes, blood test confirmed for the mass panic in my school system). Am I immune now?

  8. Very interesting articles — most informative.

    I too was struck by the observation “…a virulence of an order of magnitude of 100 times that observed for seasonal strains. ”

    However, on reading further, I think it’s a good idea to keep this stat in perspective. For seasonal flu ARDS, which this statistic addresses, is the smallest of the 3 main components of seasonal flu’s lethality. At typical infection rates of 5-20% and a mortality rate of about 1 per million, this would equate to about 15-60 deaths per year. Multiply that by 100 and it is a big problem but not a catastrophe. I didn’t see any estimates of the mortality figures for the other traditional modes in the articles that were cited.

    Nonetheless, since we do have a vaccine for the swine flu virus, I think that anyone who refuses the opportunity to be vaccinated can only be classified as …. well, let’s just say it’s pretty dumb. My sisters and I have all gotten the seasonal flu vaccination (much earlier than in previous years, I might add) and I’ve also gotten the pneumonia vaccine. We all plan to get the H1N1 vaccine as well, once available.

    If you look back at the 1918 epidemic, there was a relatively mild first wave in, I believe, the winter/spring of 1918. However the second wave which started around August/September IIRC was the killer and it seems to me that there was a third wave with somewhat lower lethality. Thankfully, the second wave this year does not appear to have mutated into a killer strain. It is still shaping up to be a major problem, but we don’t appear to be facing the prospect of having death wagons trundling down our streets — as actually did happen here in the United States in 1918.

    Not yet time to panic — but definitely time to line up for your shots.

  9. Scott Jensen

    It’s a good idea to try to steer clear of the airborne path of an infected person’s sneeze or cough. But even as the germ-laden mucous particles cruise through the air, they do respond to gravity, eventually settling on surfaces. There they can be picked up on hands and transmitted to the eyes, nose and mouth—easy paths to infecting new hosts. A simple solution of laundry bleach in water (1/4 cup in a gallon of water) applied to rinsed surfaces goes a long way toward destroying the germs that land on surfaces, just waiting for a “handy” ride to a new victim.

    Scott Jensen, American Chemistry Council

  10. Bob has it right. The only problem is that with all this ani-vax pro-disease nuttery going about, the number of people that will be getting the flu may skyrocket. Thus giving the infection rate a huge jump, with the resultant jumps in ARDS mortality. :( It’s just depressing to think that so many people will suffer (even having the flu plain sucks) just because some idiot who posed nude in Playboy decided that her intuition is better than medical degree. (And nothing against any of the other ladies who posed for Playboy, they may be bright young ladies, it’s just one in particular that gets my ire.)

  11. Flying sardines

    Said the Bad Astronomer :

    ask your doctor if you should get the vaccine when it becomes available. I’ll be getting one, and so will my whole family.

    Even Canis Minor & your cat? ;-)

    Also I guess there may be a problem if the doctor asked about by readers here in the “your Doctor” bit there is an antivax loon .. Which I’ll grant is exceedingly unlikely but still! ;-)

    Other than those miniscule nits – excellent item here! :-)

  12. Petrolonfire

    @9 Larian LeQuella :

    “And nothing against any of the other ladies who posed for Playboy, ..”

    I *wish* I had something against one of those Playboy “ladies”! ;-)

    (Sorry, crude joke & all but just couldn’t resist.)

    BTW. ‘Lady’ for describing a Playboy bunny? Not so sure, I mean they’d pass the gender test and all but well ..

    (Not to say I disrespect Playboy bunnies or anything like that. I do respect them an awful lot, I really genuinely do, & I appreciate them & their empowered courageous and generous openness and beauty immensely. It is just that applying the term ‘lady’ to them seems somewhat .. erm .. incongrous, yes? ;-)

  13. Peter B

    Well, my wife and I had our swine flu shots yesterday. So far I haven’t died or turned into a zombie, and neither has my injected arm fallen off. I will, however, inform this blog if any of the above happen…

  14. BluegrassGeek

    @ #7 Michelle

    No, you are not immune, but you should have resistance. Now that your body has fought off the virus once, it will be easier for your immune system to identify and kill the virus. You get the same effect from getting a seasonal flu vaccine: they won’t make you immune, but they will boost your immune system’s ability to fight off the infection.

    You shouldn’t need a vaccination this year, since you just got it, but next year you’ll probably want another booster to help keep you and your family from catching it again.

    Oh, you still want to get a normal flu shot, as being resistant to H1N1 won’t necessarily help against other forms of seasonal flu.

    /Not a doctor, just work in an ER

  15. Keith

    I got my vaccine today.

    Jenny McCarthy, Bil Maher, Meryl Dorey, et al are like the NHL’s minor league system….they all produce lots of hockey.

  16. It is embarrassing to read this constant refrain that vaccines are safe and effective. Ignore all the permanently damaged individuals and their “unproven anecdotal evidence” if you like–careful studies have also shown they are neither safe nor effective. See the article in the November 2009 Atlantic Monthly (that is what journalism is supposed to look like BTW).

    http://www.youtube.com/user/SwineFluSafety

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