British health officials have confirmed earlier reports that the pandemic H1N1 influenza is milder than experts had originally feared. In a report published online in the BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal, England's chief medical officer and his colleagues reported that about 26 Brits died for every 100,000 infected people. That is about 1% of the proportion that were killed in the catastrophic 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and about 10% of the proportion killed in the 1957 and 1968 pandemics.
Earlier this week, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health reported similar findings in the United States
The British officials said about two-thirds of those who died from swine flu had underlying medical conditions that would have put them at the head of the list for vaccination had vaccine been available. They also said that most did not receive treatment with the antiviral drug Tamiflu until it was too late to do any good. That finding, they said, justifies the British policy of giving Tamiflu to everyone who has swine flu symptoms, even if the infection is mild. World Health Organization guidelines, in contrast, call for giving the drug only to those with severe infections. Experts fear that widespread use of the drug will lead to the virus becoming resistant.
In other swine flu news:
-- A total of 1,415 new cases of influenza-like illness, generally assumed to be mostly swine flu, were reported on U.S. college campuses during the week ending Dec. 4, according to the American College Health Assn. That's an increase of 27% from the previous week, but the previous week was a holiday week in which many students went home for at least two days. Overall, then, the data are consistent with a continuing decrease in new cases among the nearly 3 million students at schools reporting to the organization, according to the ACHA president, Dr. James D. Turner of the University of Virginia. So far, only 5% of college students have received swine flu vaccinations, the group said.
-- Health officials in Vietnam have observed a cluster of Tamiflu-resistant swine flu that may represent the first confirmed transmission of a resistant virus from person-to-person. Peter Horsby of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Hanoi and his colleagues reported in the New England Journal of Medicine on a group of 10 students who socialized on a 42-hour train journey in July. None of the students knew each other before the trip. Six of the students and one in another car on the train developed swine flu that was subsequently found to be resistant to Tamiflu, indicating they all came into contact with one person infected with the virus. All recovered successfully. "This shows that resistant 2009 H1N1 viruses are transmissible and can replicate and cause illness in healthy people in the absence of selective drug pressure," the team wrote.
-- A report sponsored by, not surprisingly, a manufacturer of humidifiers, shows that maintaining a high level of humidity in your house during the winter months can decrease the survival rate of the swine flu virus and limit its transmission. Most homes have an indoor relative humidity of about 20% during winter months, particularly in cold climates where heating is required, and that enables the virus to thrive in the air and on frequently touched surfaces, according to the report. Raising relative humidity to 50% or higher sharply reduces survival of the virus.
-- The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said today that it is beginning a trial of the swine flu vaccine in about 240 men and women who are HIV-positive. Such people are at higher risk of complications from a flu infection because their immune systems are compromised by the virus, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAD director. But that decreased immunity may also make it more difficult to immunize them against the virus, so tests are needed to determine the efficacy of the vaccine. All the participants will receive two doses of the vaccine about 21 days apart.
-- While the U.S. and other countries are struggling to find adequate doses of swine flu vaccine, Germany said this week that it wants to sell 2.2 million doses because it has more than it needs. The country has ordered a total of 70 million doses of the vaccine for its 82 million people. It has surplus vaccine because only one dose is required -- rather than two, as was originally predicted -- and demand for the vaccine has been low.
-- One of the last places where swine flu has struck is the Gaza strip, where travel has been sharply restricted because of blockades imposed by Israel. Last weekend, however, the region reported five cases of infection, and rumors abound that two of the victims died. Israeli health authorities have agreed to treat the patients.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II