My last post, “Should You Have a Pap Smear?”, generated an avalanche of wisecracks from my male readers, mostly declining.  Thanks for that!

I want to write another post about H1N1 flu about as much as I’d like to pour lemon juice on my paper cuts.  But there’s absolutely no other medical news to report and many of you are still much attuned to this developing story.

Today’s Wall Street Journal summarized the most recent data well (link below).  Since the virus first spread to humans in April, swine flu has sickened 22 million Americans.  That’s about 7% of us.  The vast majority of illnesses have been mild.  Still, 98,000 people have been hospitalized.  That sounds like a lot, but it’s fewer than 1 in 200 people who have contracted swine flu.  3,900 have died so far, a terrifying number until we compare it to the approximately 36,000 who die annually of garden-variety seasonal flu.  That means that, on average, fewer than one in 75,000 swine flu patients die.

Having said that, flu activity both nationally and in California are very high, not just high for this time of year, but higher than some previous flu seasons at their December-January peaks.  That means a lot of people are getting sick.  (Among them are several of my patients and my wife and my son.)  The best advice to minimize transmission is still to stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands frequently and cover your cough.

So the most important bit of good news to keep in mind is that for most people, swine flu is a mild illness.  The second bit of good news is that both Google Flu Trends and the CDC (links below) suggest that the peak of new cases may have happened two weeks ago.  If that’s the case, then the rate of new infections is on the decline and the worst may be behind us.  Only time will tell.

Take a big breath.  We’ll get through this.

Learn more:

Wall Street Journal article:  Swine Flu Sickens 22 Million

Google Flu Trends

If you really want to dive into the latest data, there’s no better place than the Centers for Disease Control H1N1 Flu Situation Update page