Swine Flu May be Mildest Pandemic Ever, Researchers Say

The above headline comes from the December 8, 2009 edition of the Los Angeles Times. This was also echoed by the headline in the December 11, 2009 USA Today, which read, “Swine flu far less severe in latest calculations”. The stories from these publications were based on new studies showing that the H1N1, or Swine Flu will be far less severe than originally feared.

One study published in the December 10, 2009 issue of the British Medical Journal looked at the mortality rates associated with the H1N1 pandemic. The second study published in the December 2009 issue of PLoS Medicine looked at 2 US cities and reviewed H1N1 numbers in those cities and extrapolated these numbers nation wide.

According to the LA Times article, original estimates of deaths due to H1N1 were as high as 90,000. These new studies now show that the death toll in the US will probably be 10 – 15 thousand. According to the CDC the typical number of deaths per year averages to be about 36,000 per year. The researchers showed that the death rates for this pandemic will be seven to nine times lower than anticipated. Researchers also found that 91% of those who died suffered from underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease and respiratory illnesses like asthma, and 72% of those who died were obese.

Noting that the Flu season has two peaks, one mid summer and one in late fall, the PLoS Medicine report wrote as part of their conclusion, “These estimates suggest that an autumn–winter pandemic wave of H1N1 with comparable severity per case could lead to a number of deaths in the range from considerably below that associated with seasonal influenza to slightly higher.”

Study senior author Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, said in a news release, “As more detailed data have become available, we have been able to improve our estimates of how severe this disease is. Early on, it was difficult to measure the flu’s impact and it was crucial to plan for the full range of possible outcomes. Fortunately, the virus now appears to be near the milder end.” In an interview with NPS Dr. Lipsitch added, “It is probably going to be the mildest pandemic on record — compared to the three that happened in the 20th century.”

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