On Friday I piled on to the reports of various news outlets mischaracterizing the plausible scenario of the government’s H1N1 report as a prediction. I missed one, and it’s from an outfit that ought to know better – SEED Magazine. In it’s online round-up of the week that was, they write:
“The extra-strength version has been mined for the requisite scary numbers: PCAST predicts that up to 50 percent of the US population could be infected, and up to 90,000 people could die, from the H1N1 strain (the Centers for Disease Control have since distanced themselves from these numbers). But in any case, the real danger is that millions of symptomatic people will, fearing the worst, rush off to emergency rooms, overburdening hospitals and diverting care away from people with more serious ailments.”
The second part of this excerpt is completely on point, and worth preparing for. But to claim that PCAST predicts the numbers that SEED sites does not reflect a careful reading of the report. For a magazine, and media empire, that aspires to be the place for people to stop for science news and analysis, this is a particularly egregious screw-up. I’ve not seen a similar faux pas from the other science magazines.
In case you’re not convinced, here’s the relevant text from Page vii of the report (8 in the PDF file). The emphasis in the first paragraph is mine, the others are from the report.
“While the precise impact of the fall resurgence of 2009-H1N1 influenza is impossible to predict, a plausible scenario is that the epidemic could:
• produce infection of 30–50% of the U.S. population this fall and winter, with symptoms in approximately 20–40% of the population (60–120 million people), more than half of whom would seek medical attention.
• lead to as many as 1.8 million U.S. hospital admissions during the epidemic, with up to 300,000 patients requiring care in intensive care units (ICUs). Importantly, these very ill patients could occupy 50–100 percent of all ICU beds in affected regions of the country at the peak of the epidemic and could place enormous stress on ICU units, which normally operate close to capacity.
• cause between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths in the United States, concentrated among children and young adults. In contrast, the 30,000–40,000 annual deaths typically associated with seasonal flu in the United States occur mainly among people over 65. As a result, 2009-H1N1 would lead to many more years of life lost.
• pose especially high risks for individuals with certain pre-existing conditions, including pregnant women and patients with neurological disorders or respiratory impairment, diabetes, or severe obesity and possibly for certain populations, such as Native Americans.”
And from the body of the report, page 13 (page 31 in the PDF file):
“Because the course of the 2009-H1N1 pandemic cannot be accurately predicted, it is important to have a clear picture of our current knowledge and to envision a range of specific scenarios against which to test our planning and capabilities.”