May 18, 2009

Swine Flu Infections Ten-Fold Higher Than Confirmed Cases

A high-ranking official of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that the actual number of swine flu cases in the U.S. could be "upwards of 100,000""”a far cry from the official count of 7,415 cases confirmed thus far.

Dr. Daniel Jernigan, chief of the flu epidemiology division of the CDC, said in a news conference that the official numbers do not accurately reflect the real number of cases, since the majority of people who only experience mild symptoms do not go the hospital for testing.

He also said that the number of seasonal flu cases currently being observed in the U.S. is unusually high for this time of year.

The most recent confirmed swine flu-related death came on Friday.  The Associated Press reported that the 33-year old Corpus Christi resident died of viral pneumonia, but had also suffered from several other serious health conditions, including an enlarged heart, morbid obesity and a hypoactive thyroid.

During the same news conference, another C.D.C. official said that the agency would be lowering it warning level for people traveling to Mexico, as the country's own outbreak seems to be subsiding.

The C.D.C.'s director of global migration Dr. Martin S. Cetron said that the federal agency would no longer advise Americans against nonessential travel.  They will instead recommend that people suffering from underlying health conditions that may affect the immune system"”such as pregnancy, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even asthma"”consult a physician before traveling.

Dr. Jernigan highlighted the abnormal infection pattern of the current swine flu compared with typical, seasonal flu strains.  Roughly 36,000 Americans die annually from the flu, the vast majority of which are elderly or severely infirmed.  The current swine flu, by contrast, has until now been found mostly in patients between the ages of 5 and 24.

The C.D.C. has a national network of more than 4,500 hospitals, clinics and doctors feeding the agency with weekly reports on the number of flu cases they encounter.  In a typical year, explained Dr. Jernigan, flu counts would now be tapering-off to zero as the flu season draws to a close; instead, many health organizations are registering numbers typically only seen during the season's peak.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline announced on Friday that it will be the first company to produce a vaccine against the novel H1N1 swine flu strain.

The World Health Organization has yet to announce whether it thinks the company should move forward with production, but giant British-based healthcare firm said it has already received orders for 128 million doses from France, Belgium, Finland and the U.K."”enough vaccines for the combined populations of those countries if a single dose proves to be effective. 

Company spokesmen have also said that they will be donating 50 million vaccines to WHO to be distributed to impoverished countries.
Glaxo's customers are more or less gambling that the virus will not significantly mutate during the interim period needed to produce the vaccines.  Should the virus' genetics sufficiently alter in the coming four to six months before the vaccine is available, the treatment could prove to be largely ineffective.

During vaccine production, Glaxo will add an adjuvant to the treatment, a chemical compound that sparks a more vigorous immune response than the virus alone.


Image Credit: Wikipedia


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