Swine flu killed nearly 300,000 worldwide, study finds

The swine flu of 2009, often referred to as H1NI, killed an estimated 284,500 people, making it 15 times more deadly than it was thought at the time of the pandemic, a new study has found. The report, published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, said the numbers might be eventually be  as high as 579,000 people. The original count, tabulated by the World Health Organization, was a mere 18,500.

Those nearly 300,000 deaths were confirmed by lab testing, which the WHO warned vastly underestimated the situation “because the deaths of people without access to the health system go uncounted, and because the virus is not always detectable after a victim dies,” reports Sharon Begley for Reuters. In Kentucky, the Department for Public Health reported there were 41 confirmed H1N1-related deaths, said spokeswoman Beth Fisher.

More than 50 percent of swine flu deaths were in Africa and southeast Asia, though they only account for 38 percent of the world’s population. Because vital statistics data are either non-existent or incomplete in poorer countries, researchers had to rely on estimates and assumptions but did start with hard data, including the number of health workers who went door-to-door to ask about flu-like symptoms in rural areas and obtained nasal and throat swab samples. They used these numbers to get an estimate on the proportion of a country’s population infected with H1N1. Results show the flu killed two to three times more people in Africa than elsewhere. It infected children most, adults moderately and the elderly hardly at all. (Read more)

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