- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nearly half of adult patients hospitalized to date with this year’s novel H1N1 flu were healthy and had no known underlying condition such as asthma or a chronic illness.

Tuesday’s statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted, however, that no chronic underlying condition existed in a surprisingly high 46 percent of 1,400 hospitalized adult cases in 10 states submitted to the CDC database from April to the end of August as part of an Emerging Infection Program Network.

“A key point is that this virus can be serious even in healthy people with no underlying conditions,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The CDC figures were higher than those in a smaller report published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine. That survey of 272 hospitalized swine flu patients showed that 17 percent of adults and 40 percent of children had been healthy beforehand.

Dr. Schuchat also noted that autopsies have revealed that in about 20 percent of the fatalities, “what we saw was the influenza leading to a bacterial pneumonia.”

“So I think it is sobering that some totally healthy people suffer this very rapid deterioration from the H1N1. That is not the usual presentation, but it can happen. And as this strain spreads around the country, the numbers of people suffering from that have been increasing,” she said at a news conference Tuesday.

The doctor also cautioned that the new analysis was still preliminary, but that the flu was “pretty much around the country, with unusual levels of illness for this time of year” and attacking younger people with most hospitalizations and deaths.

“They are not occurring in people 65 and over,” she said.

Beginning in early September, the CDC for the first time will collect hospitalization figures for the regular seasonal flu as well. But a spokesman says those figures will be lumped together with swine flu figures, which will make it difficult to compare patterns and details of the novel H1N1 flu, commonly known as swine flu, versus those of seasonal flu.

Seasonal flu normally kills 36,000 Americans annually, but it isn’t known how many of these people have had underlying conditions. The new virus to date has killed an estimated 600 people and put more than 9,000 in the hospital.

The CDC’s Tuesday figures showed that five new pediatric deaths from H1N1 have occurred since last week’s report of 76, bringing to 81 the number of children who have died from the virus.

Also notable, Dr. Schuchat said, was the fact that 88 of the 1,400 adults, or 6.1 percent, were pregnant. CDC figures say that about 1 percent of the population is pregnant at any given time.

No figures were available about the percentage of people who were obese, another possible risk factor seen in H1N1 cases.

Among hospitalized adults 18 and over, 26 percent had asthma and 8 percent had other chronic lung disease besides asthma; 10 percent had diabetes; 7.6 percent had immunosuppressive conditions.

The data for the 500 children in the latest survey was preliminary in part because they didn’t separate the number of children under 2 years of age, and “just being under 2 is like an underlying condition in having a complication from influenza,” Dr. Schuchat said.

Slightly less than 6 percent of the hospitalized children had a genetic defect in the hemoglobin molecule, most commonly a sickle cell.

• Ann Geracimos can be reached at agericamos@washingtontimes.com.

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