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Deaths From 2009 H1N1 Outbreak Likely Higher Than WHO Estimated, Analysis Shows

“Deaths from H1N1 influenza in 2009 may have been 10 times higher than previously estimated, killing 123,000 to 203,000 people from respiratory illness worldwide, according to a new analysis in the journal PLOS Medicine,” published on Tuesday, USA Today reports (Szab, 11/26). “The [WHO] had said there were about 18,500 laboratory-confirmed deaths,” HealthDay News notes (Preidt, 11/26). “The relatively modest number of deaths estimated by the WHO prompted some to question whether the overall response to the 2009 outbreak was excessive,” the Los Angeles Times writes. “However, [the authors of the new analysis] argued that lab-confirmed influenza deaths would underestimate the broad reach of the illness,” the newspaper adds (Morin, 11/26). “This study shows that the actual death toll was much higher than the official count because most infected people never got an H1N1 lab test,” a press release from the George Washington University states (11/26).

“The [new] estimated death toll closely matches that of a study published in June 2012 by the [CDC],” which “estimated that 201,000 people died of flu and respiratory causes and another 83,000 died of related cardiac problems,” the New York Times writes, adding, “Lone Simonsen, an epidemiologist at George Washington University’s School of Public Health who led the new study, said she found it ‘comforting’ that both studies had reached similar conclusions” (McNeil, 11/26). “The most important insight from the analysis, Simonsen says, is that the H1N1 swine flu was hugely variable in how it affected different parts of the world,” NPR’s “Shots” blog states (Knox, 11/26). “[T]he authors note that the vast majority of those non-pandemic deaths were in elderly people,” CIDRAP News reports (Roos, 11/26).