H1N1 More Deadly Than Previously Thought

H1N1 Emerges

In 2009 the world was taken by surprise. A new global flu pandemic swooped into our lives, creating media frenzy.

As pandemic and emergency preparedness specialists, we at Global Medical Services were prepared to fight the outbreak and did just that.

But by August 2012, little over a year after the H1N1 virus became breaking news, the Director-General of the World Health Organization declared an end to the pandemic and left everyone wondering, “did the WHO exaggerated the danger,” spreading fear and confusion.

Influenza Virus

Influenza Virus

When the H1N1 virus spread around the world three years ago, there was little over 18,500 deaths reported; a number much lower than the global media attention would have one believe.

Shedding New Light

Criticism and finger pointing are inevitably part of an outbreak cycle. During the H1N1 outbreak some even went as far to call it a “false pandemic.” Contrary to this belief, a new study suggests the outbreak was more severe than originally thought.

Now that the dust has settled, the actual number of deaths from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic has been pegged at more than 15 times higher than earlier estimates.

Based on a study published online in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers estimate 284,400 people actually died in the first year alone.

According to the study authors, the actual number of deaths linked to the H1N1 flu virus could range anywhere from 151,700 to 575,400.

H1N1 Map

H1N1 reported cases from 2009

A Numbers Game

The sudden change in statistics is due to a number of reasons:

• Health officials did not take into account laboratory-confirmed flu deaths can considerably underestimate of the actual number of deaths from the flu.
• During the 2009 pandemic, many countries, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, lacked the ability to perform routine laboratory tests and therefore had difficulty identifying H1N1-related deaths.
• The WHO data suggests less than 12% of the confirmed deaths were in Africa and Southeast Asia, this new study estimates 51% of the deaths may have been from those two regions alone.

Lessons Learned

Dawood, a medical epidemiologist (also known as a disease detective) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says she hopes this research will help “limit the loss of human life in future pandemics.”

Studies like this are important as they can provide us with solid evidence of disease spread, infection rates and the impact of pandemics in various geographical regions; leading to future prevention efforts.

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