1. “So, even if we had a repeat of the 1918 flu, the chances were seven out of 10 that you wouldn’t catch it and if you did, the odds were better than nine out of 10 that you’d survive. “

    I can understand why people are scared.

    Using these numbers, that means that there was a 3% chance that any given person would die from the flu. Given that I live in an metropolitan area containing approximately five million people, that means that only 60,000 of us would die in that scenario. Sure, modern medicine is better now, so say we can prevent 99 out of 100 of those cases today. That still means 600 people would die in my area. The subway bombing in London, UK only 52 people died, but it was still scary. Even the events of 9/11 only killed 0.015% of the population of New York City. If you told people of NYC that a biological attack was coming that could wipe out twice the number that died on 9/11, I’m sure people would panic!

    In some ways, I’m playing devils advocate here. I agree, if you look at the numbers rationally, there’s nothing to get too worried about personally, as long as you happen to be a fairly healthy and robust person. But when it comes to forecasts of (potentially) immanent death and destruction, for many people rationality gets thrown out the window and replaced with more emotional responses.

  2. Ebola, SARS, the West Nile virus, and the avian flu have all spectacularly failed to wipe out humanity in the last few years. You’d think that people would have learned a lesson from those, but we’re still seeing widely-reported panics over this one.

    Wake me up when the Black Death (which, if I remember my history correctly, killed a third of the population of Europe) reappears. Until then, anything else is little more than a pandemic wanna-be.

  3. 3% of the world’s population is 1.5 million people. That’s not a small toll due to disease. Also, if someone told me that in doing something I’d have a 3% chance, one out of thirty, of dying from suffocation, I think I’d pass on that activity, wouldn’t you?

    (Unfortunately, I live in NYC, where there’s over 200 cases of the flu so far; luckily only one death so far though.)

  4. If a doctor told me that I’d contracted a deadly illness, but then said that I had a 97% chance of surviving, I wouldn’t be shopping for a graveyard plot.

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