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Israeli Doctor: 'More Die from Routine Flu Than H1N1 Virus'

An Israeli doctor says it’s time to put the swine flu scare in perspective: More people die in Israel from routine influenza than from H1N1 virus.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 8/10/2009, 11:54 AM / Last Update: 8/10/2009, 1:41 PM

Although the swine flu has become a global pandemic, infecting hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, an Israeli doctor says it’s time put it in perspective.

Dr. Yuval Rabinovich, medical director of the Leumit health clinic in Arad, told Israel National News Monday that the swine flu is relatively mild, as influenza viruses go. “More people die each year in Israel from routine influenza than have died from the H1N1 virus,” he said.

In fact, literally hundreds die in Israel each year from “regular” flu, Dr. Rabinovich said, but it is rarely reported. The Ministry of Health statistics on flu-related deaths are only available in tandem with deaths from pneumonia, a complication of the virus.

Dr. Rabinovich estimates that at least 20,000 people have been infected with the H1N1 virus since the first outbreak was detected in April. Although the Health Ministry has reported 2,000 cases of diagnosed H1N1 virus, he said, there really are at least ten times as many people out there who are infected, if not more.

“We’ve stopped testing for it,” he noted, “except in hospital situations. Any flu in Israel is swine flu at present. We don’t change the treatment.”

Dr. Rabinovich, who teaches History of Medicine at Ben Gurion University’s medical school, treats a variety of populations in Leumit’s clinics in southern Israel, including the Bedouin city of Rahat and the town of Kuseifa.

Another area of concern is the rapidity with which it has spread and the risk of mutation. “The flu mutates all the time,” Dr. Rabinovich pointed out. “A new vaccine is produced every year to contend with it.”  The main concern with swine flu, he said, is the fact that it affects primarily young people. “Those older than 40 probably ran into it a few decades ago,” he noted. “In this sense, it reminds us of the 1918 Spanish flu.”

Dr. Rabinovich hastened to add that the swine flu was not similar in any other way to the 1918 strain of influenza, which killed approximately 50 million people worldwide. “I believe it ended World War I,” he says. “Certainly more American soldiers died of the flu in the winter of 1918 than were killed in fighting the war.”

At present, only five people have died of swine flu in Israel, and of those, only two were actually healthy, without any pre-existing chronic illnesses to complicate the medical picture.

Sixteen people are currently listed in critical condition and hospitalized in the Intensive Care Units in medical centers around the country.

“Every flu is a serious disease,” Rabinovich said. “But the swine flu is pretty mild.”

According to Dun and Bradstreet, economic damage. totaling billions of shekels to the Jewish State. could be much higher than the nation’s death toll. The financial rating agency estimated Monday that the spread of swine flu by year’s end could lead to a 4-5% drop in GDP, amounting to 28-35 billion shekels ($7-8.75 billion). The direct damage this coming winter alone is estimated to be some 3 million shekels ($750,000).  The entertainment, tourist and restaurant industry is expected to be hardest hit.

However, D&B also estimated there will be those who benefit as well – takeout companies, for example, and video rental agencies, as well as pharmaceutical firms that produce vaccines against the virus.