Washington : As much as half the American population could be infected with swine flu and it could kill up to 90,000 people, The Washington Post quoted a presidential panel as saying Tuesday.
The Post cited an estimate from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to say that “the virus could cause symptoms in 60 million to 120 million people, more than half of whom might seek medical attention”.
Although most cases probably would be mild, up to 300,000 people could require intensive care, the council observed in its 86-page report submitted to the White House.
“This is going to be fairly serious,” Harold E. Varmus of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, co-chair of the 21-member council, was quoted as saying. “It’s going to stress every aspect of our health system.”
It is the first time experts have released specific calculations about the possible impact of the pandemic in the US.
Swine flu or Influenza A (H1N1) emerged last spring in Mexico and quickly spread to the US and around the world. The virus has sickened children and young adults more frequently than the typical seasonal flu.
The “plausible scenario” is based on previous pandemics and how the swine flu behaved in the US and during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter over the past few months, said Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health who helped prepare the estimate.
“They are not a prediction, but they are a possibility. If it turned out to affect a lot more adults, the severity would be a lot worse,” Lipsitch said.
While the seasonal flu is associated with 30,000 to 40,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalisations each year, the lack of immunity to the swine flu virus probably will lead to many more people becoming infected, sick — and possibly to 30,000 to 90,000 deaths, the Washington Post reported.
It was estimated that the outbreak could peak in mid-October, so the panel urged expediting the availability of an anti-flu vaccine.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said: “This isn’t the flu that we’re used to.
“The 2009 H1N1 virus will cause a more serious threat this fall. We won’t know until we’re in the middle of the flu season how serious the threat is, but because it’s a new strain, it’s likely to infect more people than usual.”
The pandemic has caused significant disruptions and economic damage in parts of the Southern Hemisphere and has contributed to the deaths of 1,799 people in 168 countries, including at least 522 in the US.
A second wave of infection is expected to begin within weeks in the Northern Hemisphere as schools reopen and cooler weather returns.