Flu Pandemic in 2009: More Severe than Data Recorded

h1n1vacAccording to the Journal PLOS Medicine, the deaths from H1N1 influenza in 2009 were 10 times higher than what was predicted. The death toll ranged from 123,000 to 203,000.

The World Health Organization listed the death toll from the H1N1 pandemic, otherwise known as the swine flu, confirmed by lab cases to be 18,449. Since the deaths reported were low, this led to speculations on whether H1N1 severity was blown out of proportion. This study was conducted in 26 countries by 60 researchers of the World Health Organization. The study showed that individuals that got infected with the flu never had a lab test to confirm their diagnosis.

Researchers at George Washington University of Public Health in Washington stated that some deaths went unrecorded because the cause of death was attributed to pneumonia or another chronic respiratory condition, but not directly linked to the H1N1 virus. Health officials were alarmed when H1N1 appeared because there was no vaccine. In the very beginning, the pandemics would kill millions of individuals and there was no natural immunity for the new virus.

Researchers expected the final estimate of flu deaths to be higher than it was first reported. According to Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, “… [They] knew all along that lab-confirmed deaths were only the tip of the iceberg.”

Two reasons why the number of deaths may be underestimated were because it encompassed deaths from respiratory illness and deaths that occurred in the first nine months of 2009. Any death that occurred later that year was not included.  Mortality was 20 times higher in Central and South America for younger people in comparison to those in Europe.

According to Arnold Monto, a leading flu researcher and professor at the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health, the variations may be explained because it is extremely difficult to prepare for a pandemic and respond once it’s underway. There is not a way to determine how the communities will be affected.  The first cases of H1N1 were reported in Mexico, which resulted in having one of the highest death rates.

The analysis demonstrated some significant differences between H1N1 and seasonal flu. Typically, 90% of flu related deaths occurred to those in ages 65 and older. On the other hand, deaths related to H1N1 were reported to occur to individuals under the age of 65 ranging from 62% to 85%.

In the past, the severity of the flu was judged upon the total number of deaths. Osterholm stated how it is imperative to take into consideration which populations suffered the most.

Osterholm emphasized how in the past, the severity of the flu was judged on the number of deaths. Yet, the death of an 82-year-old person is very different to the death of a 21-year- old healthy, pregnant female.



Valley Occupational Medical Center



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