According to new estimates by the U.S. heath authorities, the dreaded H1N1 pandemic, which has shown sustained human-to-human transmission since its outbreak in April may have killed close to 17,120 people.
The new report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides an assessment of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from H1N1 since its emergence in April until mid January.
It estimates 57 million citizens have been infected by the virus since the outbreak and the total could be as high as 84 million.
Younger generation hit hard by virus
Unlike the regular flu that strikes the elderly more viciously, the report shows the circulating virus targeted the younger generation, comprising kids, teens and adults.
The number of fatalities hovers somewhere between 8,330 and 17,160 with the mid-point touching about 11,690.
These include between 880 and 1,800 children aged 17 years and below, while around 13,000 were adults in the age group of 18 to 64 years. In the senior citizen category deaths occurred between 1,060 and 2,180.
The cumulative figure as per the report estimate is around 378,000 hospitalizations. These include 120,000 under18 years, 221,000 under 65 years and 37,000 over 65 years.
CDC spokesman Richard Quartarone stated, "Probably the biggest difference in what we see with H1N1 is it's being spread and causing disease in people under 65. This strain spreads very quickly among people under 18.
"There is a lot of disease, a lot of severe illness and death among people between 18 and 64, many of whom have some sort of chronic health condition."
Data compiled using statistical models
Although the CDC uses various sources of data and surveillance systems to establish the burden of the H1N1 disease, making an accurate estimation of the cases is very challenging. This is because many don’t seek medical intervention while only a small number are tested.
In an effort to provide a clear picture the CDC has used statistical models by compiling the laboratory-confirmed cases along with those listed on death certificates as pneumonia, organ failure or other infections.
A subsequent decline in the virus perceived
The latest figures indicate that the flu is still circulating but has lost its steam since its peak last October.
New cases have diminished in the nation perhaps because a large portion of the population has been either sickened by or vaccinated against swine flu.
However, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned, "H1N1 flu activity seems to have leveled off, but the virus does continue to circulate causing illness, hospitalizations and deaths.
"We are remaining vigilant here and we do not think people should become complacent. None of us know whether we are going to have bursts of disease or clusters or just ongoing transmission as we have been seeing the past few weeks.”