At least 7,826 people worldwide have died from laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1 influenza, an increase of more than 1,000 in the last week, but the actual number is probably much larger than that, the World Health Organization said today. Most countries have now stopped counting every case, and the totals do not reflect all the deaths linked to the virus, so the actual number is probably substantially larger. In the United States, for example, a little more than 1,000 deaths have been firmly linked to the swine flu virus, but officials estimate that about 4,000 people have actually died from the virus and its complications.
The agency said that the current wave of infection appears to have peaked in the United States and the Caribbean region, but that it has plateaued in Canada and appears to be increasing relatively rapidly in Europe. Very high levels of activity have been seen in Sweden, Norway, Moldova and Italy in the last week, and more than 99% of the flu cases have been typed as swine flu. Healthcare services have been exceptionally strained in Albania and Moldova, the WHO said. In France, that country's health ministry said, the number of deaths in the outbreak jumped by 22 last week, bringing the total of laboratory-confirmed deaths to 68.
In a news conference Thursday, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, special advisor on pandemic influenza to the WHO's director-general, said that 40 countries have now distributed at least 100 million doses of swine flu vaccine with no serious side effects. He also said that about 75 patients with a virus resistant to the antiviral agent Tamiflu have been identified, but there is no evidence that the resistance is spreading through the population at large. Many of the cases have been observed in patients who were severely immunocompromised, he noted.
Fukuda also said that about six cases of a severe allergic reaction have been observed in Canadian patients receiving one batch of a GlaxoSmithKline swine flu vaccine. Normally, about one such reaction would be expected from a single lot of the seasonal flu vaccine. He said the remaining doses of the 170,000-dose lot of the vaccine are being withheld while officials determine whether there is a problem, but he suspects the unusually high number is simply a coincidence.
In other flu news:
-- If you are traveling through Chicago this weekend, you might be able to get your swine flu vaccine there. O'Hare International Airport opened a kiosk Wednesday where travelers who fall into high-risk groups could receive the vaccine, and Chicago Midway Airport is expected to begin offering the vaccine Saturday. The kiosks, which will also offer seasonal flu shots, are run by the University of Illinois-Chicago.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II