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H1N1: One Year Later

April 22, 2010

Mild Pandemic Severely Affected Some Populations

A year after the United States first began its response to H1N1, we continue to learn more about the effects of the disease. While the impact was generally considered to be mild, it did reach the lives of many Americans. One of the most immediately evident outcomes was that students were forced to be absent from schools in many counties and cities. As a result, many education officials urged parents not to take their children to work with them today on "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day."  

The virus continues to spread in parts of the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently increased its estimates of total cases of H1N1, adding about 1 million infections, 5,000 hospitalizations, and 270 fatalities since the last estimates a month ago.   

H1N1 disproportionately affected young people but also had a major impact on pregnant women and minorities. A study of H1N1’s impact on pregnant women was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month. The study found pregnant women were much more likely to experience severe illness and even death. The severity of illness was greatly mitigated by antiviral drugs, particularly if taken within two days of onset of symptoms.

The mortality rate among pregnant women was first reported by the CDC in October 2009—after the deaths of 28 out of 100 hospitalized in intensive care units (ICUs) during the first months of the outbreak.   

Another study, based in Salt Lake County, UT, found Pacific Islanders and Hispanics were hospitalized at a greater rate than the rest of the population. Pacific Islanders make up one percent of the county''s population but accounted for 26 percent of the H1N1 stays in ICU. Hispanics are 13 percent of the population but 23 percent of the H1N1 cases studied.

Russ Miller, medical director of the Intermountain Medical Center told the Salt Lake Tribune that doctors in the area noticed a trend early in the pandemic. Young people, the obese, and minorities were sickest patients with H1N1.  

Looking Forward

Once the pandemic broke, pharmaceutical companies went into high gear to produce vaccines to immunize and protect the population—using eggs to grow virus, a method in practice for decades. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has emphasized the need for more advanced vaccine production methods to speed response times to future pandemics.

Next year’s seasonal flu vaccine, will include a strain of the H1N1 virus. Health officials are now urging those who received the H1N1 vaccine this past flu season—particularly those with conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness—to also obtain the seasonal vaccine in order to boost their immunity.

Related Links

April 21, 2010
Seattle Times: Study, Swine Flu Took a Greater Toll on Minorities

April 21, 2010
Reuters: U.S. Doctors, Minorities Still Wary of Shots, Officials

April 21, 2010
Nature News: Portrait of a Year-Old Pandemic

April 21, 2010
Bend Bulletin (OR): Still Healing, Still Learning After a Year of Swine Flu

April 21, 2010
USA Today: Lessons from the Swine Flu Pandemic


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