Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Swine flu 'will infect a third of world's population', first detailed study of virus predicts
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
Last updated at 10:31 AM on 12th May 2009
Costa Rica: A doctor stands outside a trauma area set up to treat cases of suspected swine flu. Researchers believe the virus is likely to affect one-third of the global population
Swine flu is likely to spread around the world in the next few months and infect one-third of the global population, according to the first detailed analysis of the spread of the virus.
The study by researchers at London's Imperial College, published in the journal Science, found that swine flu has 'full pandemic potential', spreading easily from person to person.
But the research's author, Professor Neil Ferguson, said it was too early to say whether the virus will cause deaths on a massive scale, or prove little more lethal than normal seasonal flu.
Its full impact on the UK is not likely to be known until the annual flu season in the autumn and winter, when a 'really major epidemic' can be expected in the northern hemisphere.
Swine flu is certainly milder than the Spanish flu which caused an estimated 50 million deaths in 1918, but it is not yet possible to say whether it will kill more than the most recent pandemics in 1957 and 1968, he said.
Professor Ferguson, who sits on the World Health Organisation's emergency committee for the outbreak, said the international community should decide this week whether to switch vaccine-production capacity away from seasonal flu to concentrate on swine flu.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: 'This virus really does have full pandemic potential. It is likely to spread around the world in the next six to nine months and when it does so it will affect about one-third of the world's population.
'To put that into context, normal seasonal flu every year probably affects around ten per cent of the world's population every year, so we are heading for a flu season which is perhaps three times worse than usual - not allowing for whether this virus is more severe than normal seasonal flu viruses.'
Swine flu cruise sails on despite crew testing positive for H1N1
UK swine flu total reaches 65 as 10 new cases confirmed in England
Swine flu shuts another school as pupil falls ill
Dozens quarantined after China confirms first case of swine flu
Professor Ferguson declined to put an estimate on the number of deaths which may result from the swine flu pandemic.
'We have some assessment, but the uncertainty is still quite broad,' he said. 'We can say it is not going to be as catastrophic as the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 - it is milder than that.
'But it is still possible it could be like 1957 - where about three to four out of 1,000 people who were infected died and overall about three to four million people died that year because of the pandemic worldwide - or it could be even milder than that, like the 1968 pandemic which was barely worse than a normal seasonal flu year.
'I am not predicting three to million (deaths). That was what happened in 1957. The world is a very different place today. There are more people in the world, but there is also a much better healthcare system. We have drugs and vaccines, particularly in developed countries, which should markedly reduce the burdens of the disease.'
Professor Ferguson said his findings confirmed that decisions must be taken swiftly on vaccine production.
'We really need to be prepared, particularly for the autumn,' he said.
'At the moment, the virus is not spreading fast in the northern hemisphere, because we are outside the normal flu season, but come the autumn it is likely to cause a really major epidemic.
'One of the key decisions which has to be made this week by the world community is how much do we switch over current vaccine production for seasonal flu to make a vaccine against this particular virus? I think those decisions need to be made quickly.