CDC Expected To Revise Estimated Number Of U.S. H1N1 Deaths

Ahead of the anticipated CDC release of revised U.S. H1N1 (swine flu) death toll estimates, Reuters examines how the agency and WHO measure the impact of the virus, after both organizations “stopped trying to count actual cases months ago, once it became clear that H1N1 was a pandemic that would infect millions.”

“There are nowhere near enough diagnostic tests to give to everyone with flu-like symptoms to see if they really have swine flu, and autopsies have shown that some people who have died had H1N1 and no one even knew it,” the news service writes. “So the death figures will be based on models, calculated by looking intensively at small groups of people, gathering data on overall reports of sickness and death, and reconciling the two” – the same method used to calculate the seasonal flu, according to Reuters (Fox, 11/11).

Reporting on the CDC estimates, the New York Times writes, “About 4,000 Americans – rather than about 1,200 – have died of swine flu since the disease emerged in April, according to new figures being calculated by [CDC] epidemiologists” – an estimate that combines the number of “deaths from laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu and deaths that appear to be brought on by flu, even though the patient may have ultimately died of bacterial pneumonia, other infections or organ failure.” The article includes comments by several flu experts on the significance of the estimates (McNeil, 11/10).

ABC News examines how the public might respond to the new H1N1-related deaths calculations: “The death toll from H1N1 may alarm many, but it is the population affected, rather than sheer numbers of deaths, that has had more impact,” the news service writes. ‘I’m not sure how closely the public has been following the numbers – 4,000 seems a small fraction of the 36,000 estimated to die of seasonal influenza each year, but these deaths are in younger people so it may raise consciousness further,’ said Dr. George Rutherford, director of the University of California, San Francisco, Institute for Global Health. ‘Just because you haven’t gotten to 36,000 doesn’t mean it’s not bad'” (Brownstein, 11/12).

CDC Reports On Steady Increase In Number Of H1N1 Vaccines Coming To U.S.

In related news, the CDC reported Tuesday on an increase in the number of H1N1 vaccines arriving in the U.S., Reuters reports in a second story. Anne Schuchat, of the CDC, “said 41.1 million doses of H1N1 vaccines are either available or have been delivered but that state and local health officials still face logistical problems,” the news service writes.

“I can’t tell you how many times in our outreach to our counterparts that we got messages back saying ‘It’s Friday, we are furloughed’ or ‘We are out today,'” Schuchat said during a Senate health subcommittee hearing. “I think the key barrier to our immnization effort is really the fragility of the public health infrastructure,” Schuchat said. “There have been about 15,000 jobs lost in that sector over the past two years.” The article includes additional comments made by Schuchat during her testimony before the Senate committee (Fox [2], 11/10). 

News Outlets Examine Global Response To H1N1

VOA News examines how the global H1N1 vaccine shortage, caused by snags in the vaccine manufacturing process, has affected countries around the world. “The United States and other wealthy countries have promised to donate 10 percent of their supply to developing countries. But due to a global shortage, that has not happened yet,” the news service writes. The article examines efforts to speed future vaccine production (Sinha, 11/10).

“Countries can cho[o]se from stronger measures like school closures that may slow the spread of swine flu in the beginning, but the disease will continue to spread anyway, [WHO] spokesman [Gregory Hartl] said Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports. “Hartl said there was ‘a public health logic’ in slowing down the spread of the virus where it is felt that the public health system will be overwhelmed. But he stressed that the steps should be justified on public health grounds and respect human rights” (11/11).

The New York Times reports in a second story on how aggressive measures by the Chinese government appear to have helped to control the spread of H1N1 in the country: “To protests from around the world, China isolated entire planeloads of people entering the country if anyone on the plane exhibited flulike symptoms. Local authorities canceled school classes at the slightest hint of the disease and ordered students and teachers to stay home. China was virtually alone in taking such harsh measures, which continued throughout most of the summer,” the newspaper writes. “Now, Chinese and foreign health officials say that some of those contested measures — more easily adopted by an authoritarian state — may have helped slow the spread of the disease in the world’s most populous country. China has not had to cope with a crush of cases, and it began administering a vaccine for swine flu in early September, the first country to do so.”

The article examines how the Chinese government responded to the H1N1 outbreak compared to the SARS outbreak, just a few years ago, and examines the number of H1N1-related deaths in the country (Wong, 11/11).

Meanwhile, the Serbian government on Wednesday declared H1N1 to be an epidemic, according to a statement by the country’s health minister, Tomica Milosavljevic, Bloomberg reports. “Medical staff are being placed under alert and emergency vaccination of about 3 million people out of Serbia’s population of 7.3 million will begin when vaccines arrive, according to the statement,” the news service writes. “Declaring an epidemic will allow the government to order military and police to transport and stockpile food and use its personnel to secure functioning of public utilities if workers fall ill. The government may also use military and police barracks and hospitals in case of an increase in patients.”

According to Serbian health authorities, there have been 258 confirmed cases of H1N1, including eight deaths. The article includes information about the Serbian government’s plans for ordering H1N1 vaccines and the economic impact of the virus (Nenadovic, 11/11).

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

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