Officials: Swine flu reports may be overblown
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 2009
8/28/09 at 3:52 AM
U.S. health officials are taking the spread of the new swine flu seriously, but they don't expect up to half the nation to be infected or up to 90,000 deaths — statistics that were reported by much of the nation's media earlier this week.
"Certainly everything we've seen in the U.S. and everything we've seen around the world to date suggests that we won't see that kind of number — if the virus doesn't change," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a taping of C-SPAN's Newsmakers program to air Sunday.
A council of independent science advisors wrote a report for the president about U.S. preparations for the swine flu, which the White House released Monday. Many in the media took a "plausible scenario" used for planning purposes and highlighted it, he said.
In the scenario, the report stated that an epidemic could infect up to half the nation's population this fall and winter, hospitalize as many as 1.8 million Americans and kill up to 90,000 people.
Still, the 15-page report emphasized the numbers were a "planning scenario, not a prediction."
"The report, I think, or unfortunately the media coverage of it wasn't nearly as balanced as the report itself," Frieden said.
"The report was very helpful, thorough and an overview of the needs. And what's gotten all the play is one particular scenario that they outlined. And there are various scenarios you can come up with."
He said the report underscored some actions that are already being taken to mitigate the impact of this new strain of flu on the American people.
"Our approach is to say 'Yes, flu is a very serious problem. We're taking very intensive steps to respond to it,' " he said. "And we are working to ensure that as few people get sick and die as possible. What that number will be, only time will tell."
On Tuesday in Atlanta, Dr. Anne Schuchat, head of the CDC's immunization division, said "Having a planning scenario is very helpful. We don't necessarily think that's the most likely scenario."
The reason for heightened concern about the novel swine flu is that most Americans have no immunity to it.
And some people may be more susceptible to severe complications and death from this virus strain, Schuchat said.
But all flu can be serious and health officials remain concerned about the seasonal flu, as well, she said. Some 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people in the U.S. die each year from seasonal flu.
"We are seeing more disease than we would expect for this time of year, but less than earlier this year," Schuchat said. "We know transmission is going to continue, but there's a lot we can do to limit that."
Avoid seasonal or novel H1N1 flu
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Cover your nose and
mouth with a tissue when
you cough or sneeze
- Wash hands frequently
with soap and water
- Avoid touching your eyes,
nose or mouth
- Stay home when sick
- Get vaccinated for both
Kim Archer 581-8315