Feds: Swine Flu Has Killed 10,000 Americans
Swine flu has already infected 50 million Americans, killing 10,000, most of them children and younger adults, federal officials reported Thursday.
The new estimates suggest that the flu, also known as H1N1, has spread through 15% of the U.S. population since it was first identified in April. As of Nov. 17, 200,000 people have been hospitalized, says Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about the same number of people hospitalized during the entire flu season, which usually lasts until May.
At least 7,500 adults 18 to 64 and 1,000 children younger than 18 have died of the disease, Frieden said. In a typical flu season, roughly 80 children die.
"Many times more children and younger adults, unfortunately, have been hospitalized or killed by H1N1 influenza than occurs during a usual flu season," Frieden says.
The analysis marks the government's latest assessment of the H1N1 epidemic. The virus has upended expectations of flu by targeting the young rather than the old. In a typical year, 95% of deaths are in people 65 and older; so far, 95% of deaths have been in people younger than 65.
William Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University, says the new estimates reinforce the message that "this isn't an infection to be trifled with or blown off."
Although flu seems to be waning - with just 25 states now reporting widespread activity, down from 48 little more than a month ago - the virus remains highly infectious and may come roaring back, Schaffner says.
Schaffner urged people to get flu shots, especially with the holidays coming. Some states and local health departments now have enough vaccine to immunize all those seeking shots.
"We should give ourselves and our family members the gift of vaccination," he said. "That way we won't bring the virus home to be transmitted under the tree to others."
Frieden reported that about 85 million H1N1 vaccine doses are now available.
Flu has also taken a disproportionate toll among American Indians and Alaskan Natives, the CDC reported. A study of deaths in 12 states revealed 42 in this population, or 4 deaths for every 100,000 people. That's many times the rate for the general population.
Scientists don't know why flu hits native populations so hard, but Frieden noted that they have much higher rates of poverty and chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and asthma.