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WHO Publishes Comprehensive Report On H1N1

“A year after the H1N1 [swine] flu first appeared, the World Health Organization has issued perhaps the most comprehensive report on the pandemic’s activity to date,” HealthDay News/Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports (Gardner, 5/5).

The review article, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, “affirms that the disease has taken its heaviest toll on young adults and children but otherwise generally resembles seasonal flu,” CIDRAP News writes (Roos, 5/5). Among other findings, the study identifies pregnant women in their second and third trimesters and obesity as risk factors for severe disease, HealthDay News/Bloomberg Business Week continues (5/5).

“The international team of 15 authors writes that the overall estimated case-fatality rate (CFR) has been less than 0.5%, with estimates ranging all the way from 0.0004% to 1.47%, reflecting uncertainty about the true number of cases,” CIDRAP News reports (5/5).

“It didn’t have the kind of global impact on mortality we might have seen with a more virulent epidemic but it did have a very substantial impact on health care resources,” said John Treanor, a professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, according to HealthDay News/Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “[Although] the mortality was lower than you would expect in a pandemic, that mortality did occur very much in younger people so if you look at it in terms of years of life lost, it becomes very significant,” Treanor added (5/5).

In related news, the Wall Street Journal examines how the pharmaceutical company Novartis is responding to the cancellations of H1N1 vaccine orders by “about half of the 15 governments” that ordered the vaccine from the company.

“When the swine-flu pandemic began last year, most Western governments scrambled to buy as much vaccine as possible. But when it turned out to be mild, many of the doses went unused, and governments cancelled part of their orders,” the newspaper writes. The article includes comments from Andrin Oswald, head of Novartis’s vaccine business, who reflects on how the H1N1 “pandemic underscored the lack of vaccine-making facilities world-wide,” and the need for “the World Health Organization and other international agencies should ensure fairer access to pandemic vaccine in the future,” according to the newspaper (Whalen, 5/6).