The Importance of Sample Size, Swine Flu Edition

What made swine flu so worrisome was the high death toll it wrought in Mexico. Most of us assumed that the virus would be at least as lethal wherever it spread. It wasn’t. With the virus temporarily in retreat, current estimates show all but one of the swine flu deaths were confined to Mexico, and all but a few of those were in Mexico City. Why? Rampant poverty, for one, which kept many in Mexico who contracted swine flu from going to the doctor until it was too late. Swine flu isn’t much more dangerous than seasonal flu, it just struck a particularly vulnerable population. That didn’t prevent a public panic, of course: the Mexican economy could lose as much as $5 billion before tourism and economic activity recovers. [%comments]


In addition, the only person to die in the United States was a child of Mexican citizens who brought the child to Houston for treatment. Tragically, they came too late.

So no US Citizens were killed by the "Swine Flu".

Les Pauls

I believe a lot of it had to do with the impovershed people over there

Scott Markwell

Is the cost of providing decent health care to those in poverty in Mexico less than that which is lost in a international panic to Mexico's industry?

(from a humanitarian angle I think universal health care should be available, and at a minimum to those in extreme poverty, but sometimes people see financial incentives more easily then humanitarian need.)


It's also possible that there were also many more in Mexico who caught the swine flu, didn't go to a doctor (and therefore went unreported), and didn't die, which artificially propped up its measured mortality rate.


In mexico,even the poorest workers that work for legal established companies have acces to the "insituto mexicano del seguro social",and also,there is a system of hospitals for free for anybody who requires inmediate atention.
But most of poblation ,even middle,and upper middle classes avoid going to doctor afraid to lose a day of payment.
Finally,We have the notion that the doctor charges excesive fees,and that prescription includes many expensive medicines that only will calm the pains and do not cure completely!
It is a mistake,but we,mexicans,continue trusting in herb healers,and pharmacist advice!
Thanks for the support of our northamerican friends and neighbors!


Mexico surely must have suffered under normal flu and yet there are not that many deaths until recently.

The lack of deaths due to A(H1N1), the current Swine Flu, is due to prompt prescription of Tamilfu, not because this flu is as mild as the normal flu.

But Tamilflu is very expensive. If we let this Swine flu to spread as normal flu, many places will run out of Tamilflu and worst, many will be treated as normal flu, i.e. treated with antibiotics to fight secondary infections.

The worst scenario is that it will be resistant to Tamilflu just as the normal flu for year 2009 had become resistant to Tamilflu. Then we can talk about how mild this flu is.

Economic activity is not a reason to risk millions of lives.

Rob Stevens

First US Citizen death from swine flu was just reported.



You should have phrased it "The first US Citizen with Swine flu has just been reported dead". The woman had many other health issues so it's likely any strain of flu virus would have been enough to cause her death.


What is particularly interesting about the whole Swine Flu episde is how the news media reported and propogated the story.
Infected stories were passed from news hound to news hound, with limited medical intervention, until we had a pandemic of misinformation.

Did this prop up the media corp economies ? (it certainly does not seem to have damaged them).


"Swine flu isn't much more dangerous than seasonal flu, it just struck a particularly vulnerable population"

I would argue there was also a strong selection bias that needed to be overcome as well.


Steerpike: I'm sure that yes, the media industry benefited from the scare they themselves created. That's what they do best. But everyone's gotta make a living, right? Nobody HAS TO watch TV and buy newspapers.

The problem is how public figures and elected officials (e.g. Joe Biden) contributed to creating this scare. Shame on them. I really wish elected representatives were smarter than the average citizen. I'm all for a technocracy. This only will save mankind from its own stupidity.


I think this flu hit the Mexican population harder because they haven't had the same exposure or chance to build immunity to the larger spectrum of flu virus out there. It's a shame so many died, and a miracle more weren't effected. For a healthy person with travel plans to Mexico this summer - don't cancel unless this breaks out into a pandemic. They could use the tourism.

Fred Wallace

Living in poverty in one of the world's most polluted cities is a double whammy in dealing with the flu. I suspect that important contributing factors to death from the swine flu are the long term respiratory problems arising from the terrible air pollution.


If only economists ran the media. Perhaps we could actually get some factual information rather than a lot of conjecture and panic.

Marc Burleigh

Not quite right. Asked about a possible link between poverty and infections, Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said Monday the flu struck across all socio-economic strata with a slight predominance towards lower- and middle-class people.

What was interesting though is the number of women among the fatalities: 24 of the 42 confirmed so far. The sample is too small to call that a trend, of course, and the infection rate between the sexes if 50-50. Another thing to note: this flu mostly hits people aged 20-40, not the very young and very elderly as in a normal influenza strain.

It should be noted that there were several more deaths occurred this month, including two on Tuesday. Presumably they received the best care available -- to rich or poor -- since the outbreak was first declared in Mexico on April 23.

Bobby G

Yay for sensationalism.


At least this time the sensationalism appears to be dying out rather quickly. During SARS the media kept the story alive for more than half a year.

David T

So, how many people have died from the regular flu, particularly in Mexico? I haven't heard a single report on that, which leads me to believe that this statistic will just make the Swine Flu scare look like nothing more than it is--a scare! Who in the media would want to undermine their own story with relevant facts?