An international team of researchers, headed by Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health, released a preliminary report that suggests a milder “pandemic” than the early reports in Mexico were made out to be. The 4% death rate attributed to H1N1 in March and April was found to have been a misleading estimate. The estimate was culled not from infections in the population as a whole, but from serious cases involving hospitalization. This significantly reduces the death rate.
The study group calculated the number of people with flu-like symptoms against those who sought medical care, those who were hospitalized, those who were assigned to intensive care units, and those who died. They used a telephone survey conducted in the Milwaukee and New York City areas to get their initial flu data and medical records for the rest.
Using the telephone survey as their total population number with flu symptoms, they estimated that 1 in 600 people might be hospitalized, which is 7 to 9 times lower than other estimates including that of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
On average, about 36,000 people in the U.S. will die frominfluenza (seasonal flu). The majority of those are older people of retirement age. Given the controversy surrounding the CDC’s handling of Swine Flu case counting nationally, counting every flu case as H1N1 and with many areas mis-diagnosing by the use of faulty or unverified tests, the new numbers are likely more accurate.
In the Spring, the CDC estimated a death rate of 2% and went into full panic for a pandemic. The new Lipsitch study puts the number well below that at 0.048%. As of September 11, 2009, the World Health Organization estimates the total number of infections, world wide, to be 209,000 and the total number of deaths to be 3,205. Or about a 0.15% death rate.
The study was completed in September in anticipation of the fall resurgence that might happen. PLos Medicine released the study to the public on December 7, publishing officially on December 8. The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and others.