- The impact of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic now stands at 10 times the original estimate – new study shows it may have been responsible for up to 203,000 deaths.
- Approximately, 80% of deaths from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic were in people younger than 65 years old, which is a sharp contrast to the typical influenza epidemic in which 80-90% of deaths occur in people over 65.
- It’s not too late to get your flu shot to protect your health this flu season.
According to a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO), the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic may have been responsible for up to 203,000 deaths. When deaths due to flu-related complications such as cardiac and respiratory issues are added in, the total could go up to nearly 400,000 fatalities. This is a steep rise from the original laboratory reported number of deaths of 18,449. While this flu pandemic was nowhere near as lethal as other strains of the virus, particularly that seen during the 1918-1919 flu season that resulted in over 50 million global deaths, the impact of the 2009 flu pandemic now stands at 10 times the original estimate. Moreover, the new study demonstrated that the infection and death rates varied greatly based on demographics and geography.
Indeed, one of the key take home points of the new study is that even a global pandemic can have great heterogeneity in terms of its deadly impact. For example, the Americas were impacted much more heavily than Europe or Australia, causing great difficulty for the WHO as it tried to craft a global response. Indeed, the impact of the disease varied greatly even within regions; for example, Argentina was hit very hard, while the impact in Chile was far less. Some have proposed that exposure to past disease strains that were similar to the 2009 strain may have had a preventative effect, whereby past exposure almost acted like a vaccine to the new disease. Most experts agree that quality of care was not a sufficient explanation for differences in impact, but the disease was more deadly in countries in which it peaked during cold weather months.
Additionally, the 2009 pandemic took an especially heavy toll on children, young adults, and pregnant women. Approximately, 80% of deaths from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic were in people younger than 65 years old, a sharp contrast to the typical influenza epidemic in which 80-90% of deaths occur in people over 65. Therefore, in terms of years-of-life-lost, the 2009 pandemic had a much greater impact than a typical flu season.
In short, experts are still trying to determine the exact reasons the disease took a deadly toll on certain regions and age groups. However, the additional data will be integral to improving public health response to future pandemics and to build out better influenza monitoring systems that take these key variations in disease impact into account.
In the United States, the flu season tends to begin in October and can continue into the springtime. If the news about the high death toll from the 2009 pandemic has concerned you, remember that it is not too late to get your flu shot, the best preventative measure you can take.