Tens of Thousands of Fall-Season U.S. Swine-Flu Deaths Foreseen in 'Plausible Scenario' Published by White House Never Happened

February 24, 2010 - 4:25 PM
New statistics on deaths and hospitalizations in 2009 from the H1N1 flu strain show that they never came close to the numbers projected for the fall season in a "plausible scenario" published by the White House. 

Researchers work with a sample of H1N1 flu virus at a lab in central China's Hubei province on Wednesday, June 17, 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics on the H1N1 flu strain show that fatalities and hospitalizations caused by the disease here in the United States over the past year never came close to the levels that the White House projected last summer could occur in the fall season of 2009 alone.
 
The CDC reported on Feb. 12 that an estimated 8,330 to 17,160 people have died from the virus in the U.S. since the H1N1 “swine flu” outbreak started in April 2009.  In August, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) published a report estimating that H1N1 could  "cause between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths in the United States" in the fall of 2009.

The CDC reported that through Jan. 16 there had been between 183,000 and 378,000 H1N1-related hospitalizations in the United States. The PCAST report projected that there could be "as many as 1.8 million U.S. hospital admissions" as a result of the virus. 

"While the precise impact of the fall resurgence of 2009-H1N1 influenza is impossible to predict," said the PCAST report, "a plausible scenario is that the epidemic could: … cause between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths in the United States, concentrated among chil­dren and young adults. In contrast, the 30,000–40,000 annual deaths typically associated with seasonal flu in the United States occur mainly among people over 65. As a result, 2009-H1N1 would lead to many more years of life lost."

The report stressed that its estimate that H1N1 could kill 30,000 to 90,000 Americans and put between 1 and 2 million Americans in the hospital in the fall of 2009 was not a prediction but a "plausible scenario" and that this scenario was far more conservative than the one being used by the British government.

"By the end of 2009, 60 to 120 million Americans would have experienced symptomatic infection with 2009-H1N1; nearly 1 to 2 million would have been hospitalized, with about 150,000-300,000 cared for in ICUs; and somewhere between 30,000 and 90,000 people would have died, the majority of them under 50 years of age," said the PCAST report. "We emphasize that this is a plausible scenario, not a prediction. By way of comparison, it is less severe by a factor of three (in terms of expected deaths per capita) than the 'reasonable worst case' planning assumptions, publicized by the UK government, for the H1N1 resurgence in that country."

As of Feb. 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there have been 15,921 deaths from reported "laboratory-confirmed" cases of H1N1 2009 worldwide.
 
Outbreaks in North and South America are now at a low level, WHO said.
 
“In the Americas, both in the tropical and northern temperate zones, pandemic influenza virus continues to circulate at low levels but overall pandemic influenza activity continued to decline or remain low in most places,” the WHO report added. 

The CDC's Feb. 12 report estimated that 8,330 to 17,160 people have died in the U.S. alone since the H1N1 “swine flu” virus first broke out in April 2009 and that the mid-level range for death by the virus was 11,690.
 
The CDC also estimated that between about 183,000 and 378,000 H1N1-related hospitalizations occurred between April 2009 and Jan.16--far less than the "nearly 1 to 2 million" estimated for the fall of 2009 in the "plausible scenario" published by PCAST in its August report.
 
The CDC numbers differ from the WHO statistics because the U.S. agency said it stopped reporting what are called “laboratory confirmed” cases in July 2009. The CDC now only reports “estimates” of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths from influenza.
 
“Early in the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, CDC did collect information related to 2009 H1N1 cases, but on July 24, 2009, states discontinued reporting of individual cases of 2009 H1N1 because as the outbreak expanded, individual case counts become increasingly impractical and not representative of the true extent of disease,” according to the CDC Web site. 
 
“For this reason, definitive counts of how many people have become infected with 2009 H1N1 are not available. However, CDC developed a method to provide an estimated range of the total number of 2009 H1N1 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States,” the public health agency said.
 
Still, U.S. estimates for H1N1 fatalities fell significantly below the average number of 36,000 fatalities the government says typically occur each year from seasonal flu. 
 
On Aug. 24, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)--a panel chaired by White House Science Czar John P. Holdren--released its report assessing H1N1 preparations. This report said:

“While the precise impact of the fall resurgence of 2009-H1N1 influenza is impossible to predict, a plausible scenario is that the epidemic could:
 
“-- produce infection of 30-50 percent of the U.S. population this fall and winter, with symptoms in approximately 20-40 percent of the population (60-120 million people), more than half of whom would seek medical attention.
 
“-- lead to as many as 1.8 million U.S. hospital admissions during the epidemic, with up to 300,000 patients requiring care in intensive care units (ICUs). Importantly, these very ill patients could occupy 50-100 percent of all ICU beds in affected regions of the country at the peak of the epidemic and could place enormous stress on ICU units, which normally operate close to capacity.
 
“-- cause between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths in the United States, concentrated among children and young adults. In contrast, the 30,000-40,000 annual deaths typically associated with seasonal flu in the United States occur mainly among people over 65. As a result, 2009-H1N1 would lead to many more years of life lost.”
 
In October of 2009, President Obama signed a proclamation declaring H1N1 a “national emergency" as the "rapid increase in illness" continued.

As noted, the CDC is now reporting that in the United States between 8,330 to 17,160 people have died from H1N1 since the virus first broke out in April 2009, and that  the mid-level in the range was about 11,690 deaths.