With the second wave of H1N1 infections having crested in the United States, leading epidemiologists are predicting that the swine flu pandemic could end up ranking as the least deadly since modern medicine began documenting influenza outbreaks.
“I think it is very likely to be the mildest pandemic on record,” said Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the federally funded analysis released Monday.
The analysis, based on data collected in New York City and Milwaukee, indicates that the virus might directly cause between 6,000 and 45,000 deaths by the end of the winter, with the final toll probably falling somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000, Lipsitch said.
In the worse-case scenario, the swine flu pandemic would claim no more than about 60,000 lives, Lipsitch’s new analysis concluded.
But even if the overall death toll ends up being relatively low, several experts noted that the pandemic has already caused hundreds of deaths among children and young adults.
A typical flu season is associated with an average of 36,000 deaths in the U.S., with only about 9,000 deaths directly caused by the virus.
An estimate released in August that Lipsitch was involved in predicted the new 2009 H1N1 virus could kill between 30,000 and 90,000 Americans.
One major reason for the relatively low death toll is that the elderly have largely been spared so far, apparently because many have some immunity against the disease.