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Pandemic H1N1 Flu Killed Far More Than Reported: Study
Date:6/26/2012

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- The pandemic H1N1 flu in 2009 may have killed more than 500,000 people around the world, 15 times more than reported, a new study suggests.

During the pandemic, 18,500 laboratory-confirmed deaths were reported to the World Health Organization from April 2009 through August 2010, but as many as 575,400 may have actually died, an international group of scientists now says.

"This is a better approximation of the number of deaths that occurred," said researcher Dr. Marc-Alain Widdowson from the influenza division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This study also confirms that the majority of deaths were in the under-65s, which is very different than seasonal influenza, where the vast majority of deaths are in the over 65s," he added.

In addition, the researchers estimate that regions in southeast Asia and Africa were more affected than the official numbers reflect, Widdowson said.

In these poorer areas, there is less ability to diagnose and treat influenza, and people in these areas aren't tested for flu, so there are far fewer reported flu deaths than actually occurred, he said.

"We need to do a better job at understanding what flu does in these settings," Widdowson said. "People in the poorer regions of south Asia and Africa get a double whammy. They may be at higher risk of severe disease and are less likely to have access to vaccines in the early part of the pandemic."

The report was published in the June 25 online edition of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

To get a better estimate of the actual number of H1N1-related deaths, the researchers created a model drawing on data from 12 high-, middle- and low-income countries.

Believing deaths in some areas were greater than others, they weighted their model to account for these differences.

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