Friday, August 28, 2009

Swine flu sends more blacks, Hispanics to hospital

The Chicago findings are believed to be the first published study to the ethnic breakdown of swine flu's impact
By Mike Stobbe
Associated Press

Swine flu was four times more likely to send blacks and Hispanics to the hospital than whites, according to a study in Chicago that offers one of the first looks at how the virus has affected different racial groups.

The report echoes some unpublished information from Boston that found three out of four Bostonians hospitalized from swine flu were black or Hispanic.

The cause for the difference is probably not genetic, health officials said. More likely, it's because blacks and Hispanics suffer disproportionately from asthma, diabetes and other health problems that make people more vulnerable to the flu.

It's not clear if a racial or ethnic difference will hold up when more complete national data is available, one federal health official said. The findings are based on fairly small numbers of cases from the early days of the pandemic.

"We don't have anything definitive to say one group is more affected than another," said Dr. Daniel Jernigan of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Chicago findings, released Thursday, are believed to be the first published study to detail a racial or ethnic breakdown of swine flu's impact.

Researchers looked at more than 1,500 lab-confirmed swine flu cases reported to the Chicago Department of Public Health from late April through late July.

Blacks with swine flu were hospitalized at a rate of 9 per 100,000, and Hispanics at a rate of 8 per 100,000. For whites, the rate was 2 per 100,000, the study found.

See: Swine flu sends more blacks, Hispanics to hospital

Swine flu could infect half of U.S., panel estimates

The virus could cause symptoms in 60 million to 120 million people
By Rob Stein
The Washington Post

Swine flu could infect half the U.S. population this fall and winter, hospitalizing up to 1.8 million people and causing as many as 90,000 deaths - more than double the number that occur in an average flu season, according to an estimate from a presidential panel.

The virus could cause symptoms in 60 million to 120 million people, more than half of whom might seek medical attention, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimated. The numbers were given in an 86-page report to the White House assessing the government's response to the first influenza pandemic in 41 years.

Although most cases probably would be mild, up to 300,000 people could require intensive care, which could tie up ICU beds in some parts of the country at the peak of the outbreak, the council said.

"This is going to be fairly serious," said Harold Varmus of New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who co-chairs the 21-member council. "It's going to stress every aspect of our health system."

The estimates, released Monday, were the first specific numbers by experts on the possible impact of the pandemic in the United States.

The "plausible scenario" is based on previous pandemics, especially the 1957-58 Asian flu, and how the swine flu behaved in the United States this spring and during the Southern Hemisphere's winter over the past few months, said Mark Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health. He helped prepare the estimate.

"They are not a prediction, but they are a possibility," he said, noting the estimates are based on assumptions, including that the virus will not mutate into a more dangerous form or infect more older people.

See: Swine flu could infect half of US, panel estimates