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Redesigning flu mortality
In “Designer flu” (SN: 6/2/12, p. 20), researcher Michael Osterholmis quoted as saying that even if the actual kill rate of H5N1 is 20 times lower than the current estimate of 59 percent, H5N1 would still have a mortality rate that “far exceeds” that of the 1918 flu. Wikipedia gives a 1918 flu infection rate estimate of 27 percent, with 3 percent of the world’s population dying. Using the 3 percent mortality rate, “20 times lower” would require an assumption that the H5N1 infection rate is 100 percent, so the phrase “far exceeds” would require an infection rate of over 100 percent [for H5N1 to kill a larger percent of the world population], obviously impossible. Not that any of these numbers aren’t terrible and scary, but shouldn’t we avoid exaggerating the risk?
Linda Riley, Shawnee, Kan.

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