Young, healthy adults hard-hit by swine flu: Study

New York, October 13 -- A Canadian research shows that H1N1 influenza associated with respiratory failure could prove to be more fatal for the younger population with no serious underlying medical conditions, contrary to the chronically ill and the elderly who are believed to be more prone to the disease.

The findings of the study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, emphasize the fact that there is an increasing need for healthy adults to get vaccinated against the pandemic flu.

To determine whether relatively healthy adults are especially at risk from the swine flu, a Canadian research team conducted an in-depth examination of nearly 168 patients infected with the lethal virus and who were treated at 38 Canadian hospitals between April 16 and Aug. 12 at the height of the swine flu outbreak.

The average patient was 32 years old, including 113 women (67.3 percent) and 50 people under the age of 18 (29.8 percent). Only 30.4 percent who fell severely ill had severe health problems.

Healthy adolescents and adults more at risk
The results of the examination suggested that of all the admitted patients, 24 (14.3 percent) died within the first 28 days and five within the first 90 days, resulting in a 17 percent mortality rate.

“What the public needs to understand is that people who are getting critically ill with H1N1 look just like you and me – they're essentially healthy people,” said Anand Kumar who compiled the research with the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group H1N1 Collaborative.

Kumar also is an associate professor for critical care and infectious disease at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Camden.

"But healthy people can be hit. Once they are,” he said, "these people are spectacularly ill -- it's hard to believe how ill these people are.''

"Our data suggest that severe disease and mortality in the current outbreak is concentrated in relatively healthy adolescents and adults between the ages of 10 and 60 years, a pattern reminiscent of the W-shaped curve [rise and fall in the population mortality rate for the disease, corresponding to age at death] previously seen only during the 1918 H1N1 Spanish pandemic," concluded the team.

Swine flu’s toll worldwide
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 4,500 people worldwide have died of H1N1, including 79 in Canada.

Worldwide, more than 3,75,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu have been reported until recently, but many countries, including Canada, have stopped counting individual cases because the disease is so widespread.

Modern medical therapies suggested
Health experts say that modern therapies, including breathing assistance from ventilators and antiviral medicines, can prevent most swine flu deaths as most patients can be supported through their critical illness with such therapies.

Most people with flu-like symptoms don't need to go to emergency rooms or even take antiviral medicines such as Tamiflu. However, people who undergo severe shortness of breath or very rapid heartbeat should go to hospitals, they say.


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