CDC Estimates 1 Million U.S. H1N1 Flu Cases

The “ballpark figure” was given Friday by Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta. She said five manufacturers are working on vaccines for this strain of influenza, with clinical trials to happen this summer.

CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta, provided good and bad news in her Friday briefing about novel influenza H1N1. She said CDC now estimates 1 million Americans are sick with this flu strain currently, even though only 127 deaths and more than 3,000 hospitalizations have been recorded so far. The great majority of cases are people who have not been tested, she said.

"We continue to say there most of the impact of this new virus is affecting younger people compared with what we see with the seasonal flu when, of course, seniors, people over 65, are so greatly affected," she said, according to the transcript posted by CDC. “We're seeing high rates of illness among people under 50. The highest rates are in those under 25. When we look at hospitalized cases, nearly 80 percent of people who have been hospitalized in the U.S. and reported to us have been under 50. The median age of hospitalized cases is 19 years old. When we look at the most severe outcomes, the people who have died, the age is a bit older. The median age of those who have died is 37, still quite young for anyone to be dying of an infectious disease, but a bit older than the hospitalizations and the average cases.

"We think it's important for everyone to be aware of this new virus that's circulating in so many parts of our country and the world, but it's particularly important for those of us who have underlying health conditions. We might think of these as big problems because they're just part of our day-to-day life, but people with asthma, people with diabetes, heart disease, people with chronic lung disease and, of course, people who are pregnant [should] be especially concerned if they develop respiratory symptoms, fever, and a respiratory illness. You've heard us talking about obesity and sometimes we talk about what doctors call morbid obesity or extreme obesity. That's showing up in our lists of people who are hospitalized with this condition and among some of the deaths that we're seeing. We want to clarify that: We think that people who are severely obese, the extreme obesity or what doctors called morbid obesity, are people who also have chronic lung disease. The heavy weight that people are carrying around can compromise the lungs and can put you at risk for influenza, so it's not really a new risk factor for influenza, it's just a repackaging of that chronic lung disease that we've always known was a risk for influenza."

Five manufacturers are working on vaccines for this strain of influenza, with clinical trials to happen this summer, she said. CDC is closely watching the Southern Hemisphere, which is entering its usual flu season, to see how H1N1 cases evolve there, she added.

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