H1N1 could kill 90,000 in US, says report

Influenza unlikely to resemble deadly pandemic of 1918-19

“By the end of this year, 60 to 120 million Americans will have experienced symptomatic infection with 2009-H1N1; nearly one to two million will have been hospitalised, with about 1,50,000-3,00,000 cared for in ICUs; and somewhere between 30,000 and 90,000 people will have died, the majority of them below 50,” said the report ‘On US Preparations for 2009-H1N1 Influenza’.

Overall, 20 to 40 per cent of the population could develop symptoms of the strain, commonly known as swine flu. During a normal flu season, the virus kills about 35,000 Americans. However, the authors of the report released by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said this was one of the possibilities and not a prediction.

‘Not a prediction’

“We emphasise that this is a plausible scenario, not a prediction. By way of comparison, it is less severe by a factor of three (in terms of expected deaths per capita) than the ‘reasonable worst case’ planning assumptions, publicised by the UK government, for the H1N1 resurgence in that country,” the report said.

The report concludes that the 2009-H1N1 flu is unlikely to resemble the deadly flu pandemic of 1918-19.

But in contrast to the benign version of the swine flu that emerged in 1976, the report says the current strain “poses a serious health threat” to the nation.

“The issue is not that the virus is more deadly than other flu strains, but rather it is likely to infect more people than usual because it is a new strain against which few people have immunity. This could mean that doctors’ offices and hospitals may get filled to capacity,” said a statement issued by the White House.

“As the nation prepares for what could be a challenging fall, it is crucial that our public health decisions are informed by the very best scientific and technological information,” said John P Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and a co-chair of PCAST.

Among the group’s prime recommendations are accelerating the preparation of flu vaccine for distribution to high-risk individuals, clarifying guidelines for the use of antiviral medicines, upgrading the current system for tracking the pandemic’s progress and making resource allocation decisions, accelerating the development of communication strategies to broadcast public health messages that can help mitigate the pandemic’s impact and identifying a White House point person with primary authority to coordinate key decisions in the government as the pandemic evolves.

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