A teenager wears a mask as he goes out from Butor high school, on August 23, 2009, in Saint-Denis de la Reunion (French Indian ocean territory). More than half of the fatalities from swine flu have been among young adults. — PHOTO: AFP
The analysis of 574 pandemic deaths from 28 countries through mid-July, released this week, also found that being diabetic or obese significantly boosted the risk of dying.
Neither children nor the elderly are as vulnerable as initial reports indicated, found the study, published by Eurosurveillance, the monitoring arm of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
‘Most deaths (51 per cent) occurred in the age group of 20-to-49 year-olds, but there is considerable variation depending on country or continent,’ the researchers reported.
Only 12 per cent of those who died were 60 or older.
All of these features – high mortality among young adults and the obese, but not the very young or elderly – are sharply different than for the seasonal flu.
More than 90 per cent of deaths from seasonal flu – which claims 250,000 to 500,000 lives annually according to the WHO – are in people over 65.
By contrast, with the pandemic H1N1, ‘the elderly seem to be protected from infection to some extent, perhaps due to previous exposure to similar strains,’ the study conjectured.
Persons born before 1957, other studies have suggested, were almost certainly exposed to the milder seasonal A(H1N1) viruses that evolved from the terrible pandemic of 1918, which left some 40 million dead.
With the 2009 strain, ‘when infection does occur, however, the per centage of deaths in elderly cases seems to be higher that in others.’ One common target across both pandemic and season strains is pregnant women, according to the study, led by Philippe Barboza of the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance.