A presidential panel has released its estimate as to the possible severity of an H1N1 virus outbreak in humans expected to peak this October. Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health helped prepare the report. Lipsitch emphasized the numbers published in the report are – not a prediction, but they are a possibility. According to the report, the H1N1 virus could infect half the U.S. population this fall and winter, hospitalizing up to 1.8 million people and causing as many as 90,000 deaths. That's more than double the number that occur in an average flu season.
According to the presidential report the H1N1 virus could cause symptoms in 60 million to 120 million people, more than half of whom might seek medical attention. Although most of the cases probably would be mild, up to 300,000 people could require intensive care. Harold Varmus of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York says it's going to stress every aspect of the health system.
In comparison, the seasonal flu is associated with 30,000 to 40,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year. Most deaths during a typical flu season occur in the elderly, but, according to the report, the H1N1 virus is more likely to kill children and young adults.
"This isn't the flu that we're used to," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "We won't know until we're in the middle of the flu season how serious the threat is, but because it's a new strain, it's likely to infect more people than usual."