Worth reading: History in a Crisis — Lessons for Covid-19

Much needed perspective from David S. Jones, M.D., Ph.D., in NEJM.


An especially worthwhile excerpt:

“History suggests that we are actually at much greater risk of exaggerated fears and misplaced priorities. There are many historical examples of panic about epidemics that never materialized (e.g., H1N1 influenza in 1976, 2006, and 2009). There are countless other examples of societies worrying about a small threat (e.g., the risk of Ebola spreading in the United States in 2014) while ignoring much larger ones hidden in plain sight. SARS-CoV-2 had killed roughly 5000 people by March 12. That is a fraction of influenza’s annual toll. While the Covid-19 epidemic has unfolded, China has probably lost 5000 people each day to ischemic heart disease. So why do so many Americans refuse influenza vaccines? Why did China shut down its economy to contain Covid-19 while doing little to curb cigarette use? Societies and their citizens misunderstand the relative importance of the health risks they face. The future course of Covid-19 remains unclear (and I may rue these words by year’s end). Nonetheless, citizens and their leaders need to think carefully, weigh risks in context, and pursue policies commensurate with the magnitude of the threat.”

In the US alone, the 2019-20 flu season has claimed the lives of as many as 52,000 Americans, including 136 children.

See www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm