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Swine Flu Pandemic May Be Less Severe Than Expected

Data indicates that, while serious, virus impact predicted to be mild

TUESDAY, Dec. 8 (HealthDay News) -- A new joint American-British study suggests that the impact of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic during the autumn-winter flu season will be less severe than had been feared.

"As more detailed data have become available, we have been able to improve our estimates of how severe this disease is. Early on, it was difficult to measure the flu's impact and it was crucial to plan for the full range of possible outcomes. Fortunately, the virus now appears to be near the milder end," study senior author Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, said in a news release.

The study authors analyzed the pandemic in the United States by looking at national statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local statistics in Milwaukee and New York City. Researchers chose those two cities because they thought they did a good job of keeping statistics.

In particular, the researchers made their projections by examining the number of people who were hospitalized or in an intensive care unit or on a ventilator, along with the total of those who had died.

"The good news is that, along with previous work by the CDC and others, our work shows that the severity of the H1N1 flu may be less than initially feared," Lipsitch said. But between one in 70 and one in 600 people who get the illness will be hospitalized, he noted.

"This is a serious disease," he added. "The CDC and others have shown that certain high-risk groups, including pregnant women, people with asthma and people with compromised immune systems, should be vaccinated and should seek prompt treatment if they suspect they are sick with H1N1. Even for people outside these high-risk groups, vaccination is an important way to reduce the risk of what can be a serious illness."

The study is published in the Dec. 7 online edition in the journal PLoS Medicine.

More information

For more about H1N1 swine flu, visit the CDC.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Harvard School of Public Health, news release, Dec. 7, 2009

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