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Swine flu deaths: What you need to know

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black_flu_580857969.jpgSwine flu deaths: What you need to know

Risk of swine flu deaths may be the ultimate concern for most people during this H1N1 flu pandemic. Becoming well informed of this risk can help people decide what preventative measures they need to take to reduce that risk.  The U.S. government has had its own assessment and has decided that people would be better off being vaccinated with H1N1 flu vaccine.  However, each individual should make his own decision to best protect himself.  To that end, it is important to understand the risk of death from H1N1 flu.

From what the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported thus far, it is evident that the so-called H1N1 flu is no more risky than seasonal flu; at least in some sense.  However, H1N1 flu differs from the seasonal flu in that it appears to be more active in warmer climates; it also hits the young harder.  Luckily, the overall risk of swine flu deaths is tiny compared to many other risk factors, such as highway traffic accidents and infant mortality in the first six months of their lives.

Compared to adults, children are at higher risk of dying from complications of H1N1 virus, according to the CDC.  As of Sept, 2009, the number of deaths among the U.S. children under the age of 18 years from H1N1 infection has increased to 76, with 19 deaths reported in the past week, according to Anne Schuchat, M.D., Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases for the CDC.

Of the 19 deaths, two were reported in Maryland, three were in Tennessee, seven in Texas and one each in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Of these deaths, 16 were associated with H1N1 flu while the subtype of the remaining three was undetermined.

The CDC has not released any information regarding the disparities of H1N1 flu among different ethnic groups in the past month. This information is important because it helps people to have a clear picture of the risk these groups are facing.  

Based on the detailed report of the first 36 pediatric deaths from H1N1 published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for the week ending Sept. 9th it seems that the overwhelming majority of the deaths occurred in children with serious, pre-existing medical conditions.

Twenty-two, or 92 percent, of the 24 children with high-risk health conditions who died between April and August inclusively had neurodevelopmental conditions e.g. developmental delay or cerebral palsy, the CDC reported.  Children with these conditions are also at higher risk of other types of flu, editorialists for the government's weekly report say. Other conditions implicated in these deaths include chronic pulmonary condition, congenital heart disease, metabolic or endocrine condition, immuno suppression, and multiple neurodevelopmental conditions. Of the remaining 12 children, ten children's health conditions were not reported and two were obese. Of the ten children with no high-risk helath conditions reported, eight children got co-infected with another pathogen.

Of the 23 children who had received culture or pathology tests, 43 percent were found to suffer bacterial co-infections. This observation suggests that people with the viral infection should try to avoid secondary infection; that is, getting infected with bacteria and other types of viruses. The likely pathogens associated with flu include S. aureus, S. pneumoniae, and S. pyogenes, according to the report.

From the MMWR report, a couple of observations were noticed:

1) Hispanics and Blacks are at higher risk. Of the 36 deaths reported earlier, 18 of the victims were either Black or Hispanic; both are minorities in the United States.  This observation prompts us to raise the question: why are these minority children at higher risk for the swine flu deaths and flu infection in general?

2) Antiviral treatment commonly with Oseltamivir did not seem to help reduce the risk of swine flu deaths.  Treatment received after 2 days of illness onset appeared to be particularly ineffective at reducing the death risk. Of the 36 children, 16 had received flu treatment compared to 12 who did not receive treatment.

There is no answer to the question of why children, particularly Black and Hispanic children and children with neurodevelopmental disorders are at higher risk of the death from the 2009 novel H1N1 virus.  The CDC does not seem to have a clear answer for this.  One convenient explanation circulated in the media is that children have not acquired immunity through previous exposure to similar flu strains.  That sounds like a reason, but evidence has emerged that lack of previous exposure to certain flu strains may not be the only reason. Why?

Vitamin D Theory

John Cannell, M.D., a vitamin D expert and president of Vitamin D Council suggested in his monthly newsletter released on Sept 5 that vitamin D deficiency may be the X factor for the elevated risk of pediatric deaths from H1N1 flu and possibly other types of flu as well.  

Why should vitamin D be so important?  Cannell and his colleagues have thoroughly reviewed previous studies in a virology journal and concluded that infection of all types of influenza is associated with the lack of sun exposure; in other words, having low serum vitamin D levels.  Previous studies have shown that sufficient levels of this nutrient are needed for cells to produce antibacterial peptides that are involved in the so-called innate immunity against flu viruses.

Cannell said neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy and mental retardation are all associated with childhood vitamin D deficiency.   Children with these conditions tend to stay indoors and when they go out, they may use sunblock to prevent the skin from being exposed to sunlight, both leading to vitamin D deficiency.  That is possibly why children with these health conditions are susceptible to severe H1N1 flu complications.

The Vitamin D theory can also be used to explain why Blacks and Hispanics are at higher risk for the H1N1 flu.  Hispanic and Black children, actually more than the majority of children in other ethnic groups alike are likely vitamin D deficient.  Darker pigmentation is one of the reasons these children tend to suffer from vitamin D deficiency.

Can we use vitamin D to prevent H1N1 flu or H1N1 flu death?

Again, Cannell has reported on Sept 16 in his newsletter that two physicians, one in Wisconsin and the other in Georgia, suggested that vitamin D supplementation can be the key to H1N1 flu prevention.

Norris Glick, M.D. of Central Wisconsin Center in Madison told Cannell in his email that 274 residents at his health care facility took vitamin D supplements and were monitored regularly for their plasma vitamin D levels; as a result, only two residents developed influenza-like illness and had positive tests for H1N1 during a period of observation. This compares to 103 of 800 staff members during the same period who were not required for the supplementation. This huge difference may be due likely to use of vitamin D supplements.

Dr. Ellie Campbell, who also responded to Cannell's vitamin D theory, told Dr. Cannell in an email of a similar observation.   She said she told her patients to take 2,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D regularly and monitored their serum levels to make sure her patients had sufficient Vitamin D in their blood.  Campbell shared office with another physician. Her office mate did not do the same thing to his patients.  When H1N1 hit George, none of her patients came to see her for H1N1 virus infection while the other physician was seeing one to 10 cases per week of influenza-like illness.

Can vaccination help protect against H1N1 flu?

The CDC has made it clear that the swine flu vaccine is the best way to prevent H1N1 flu.  The Food and Drug Administration has approved four H1N1 flu vaccines.  One troubling fact about these vaccines is that the number of subjects in clinical trials is quite small (a couple of thousand) and the subjects ARE healthy. What this means is that we do not know how much these vaccines could help SICK children or children with high-risk health conditions.

It's fair to say most healthy children do not need any medical intervention and can recover from the H1N1 flu in a natural way.  Polls have revealed that the majority of Americans believe that H1N1 flu is just another flu virus and the risk it poses is similar to that from seasonal flu.  Surveys found only 40 percent Americans said they would definitely get H1N1 flu vaccine and about 43 percent or so of parents said they would give  their children the flu shots, even though the CDC has repeatedly said that the vaccines are safe and has urged All Americans to get vaccinated.

Getting infected with this mild form of H1N1 virus actually may be a good thing for HEALTHY people.  Cannell said that Blacks and Hispanics were less likely to die from the Spanish flu pandemic because many of them had exposed themselves to similar yet less virulent strains, possibly because of their vitamin D deficiency before the Spanish flu pandemic that was caused by an unusually virulent and deadly influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1.

Should we worry about the risk of swine flu deaths?

The United States has reported at least 3,873 deaths from complications associated with flu, primarily the H1N1 virus, including at least 28 pregnant women, the Washington Post reported on Oct 10.  The risk of the swine flu deaths is relatively tiny compared to other causes of death.

In the U.S. about 30,000 infants younger than 6 months or 0.6 percent infants in that age group die each year from all causes. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic safety Administration, 43,200 people died from motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2005.


By David Liu - davidl at foodconsumer.org, and editing by Rachel stockton - rachels at foodconsumer.org



(Send your news to foodconsumer.org@gmail.com, Foodconsumer.org is part of the Infoplus.com ™ news and information network)

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (6 posted):

Chuck on 10/11/2009 23:54:20
First, a correction of your reading of the MMWR report. The 22 children with neurodevelopmental conditions were 92% of the 24 children with high-risk conditions, not of the whole group. As 24 of 36 had high risk conditions, this means that fully one-third of the children who died were healthy before catching and dying of the h1n1 flu.

The purpose of the CDC's announcement of the recent rise in reports of pediatric deaths was to alert the public and health care workers to an unusual and early rise of flu fatalities in this flu season. The significance of the number of reported deaths can be better understood if compared with normal flu seasons. I have put together some information comparing this point in the flu season with previous years.

In August and September 2006 there were no pediatric flu deaths.
In August and September 2007 there was 1 pediatric flu death.
In August and September 2008 there were no pediatric flu deaths.
In August and September 2009 there were 37 pediatric flu deaths. This shows how unusual and alarming this season is showing itself.

Actually the official CDC figures are incomplete for this year, because they have to wait for the reports to come up from the county and then the state health departments. More deaths will be added as reports trickle in.
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admin on 10/12/2009 00:20:19
thanks for the correction. It has been corrected now.
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Shar on 10/12/2009 04:23:06
It's obvious this article has a thinly disguised anti-vaccine slant. The statistic that alarms me most is that 30% of the people who have died from H1N1 were normal healthy people, mostly young. Read this interview with the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/10/q-a-swine-flu-what-you-need-to-know-.html

According to a World Health Organization report, worldwide 40% of those developing severe cases of H1N1 are healthy people: http://www.canada.com/health/issues+caution+over+monitoring+swine+cases/1924069/story.html

Only pediatric deaths from the flu are required to be reported to health officials. I read an article at a major news source today (I will post the link if I can find it) which said the CDC has simply stopped counting the number of H1N1 flu deaths and hospitalizations in the US. Who knows what the true figures are at this point.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, people have wanted to believe that H1N1 is no worse than the seasonal flu. As of now, in terms of overall fatality rates, it has not been much worse. But the seasonal flu kills the old (90% over 65),the young and the chronically ill. It is virtually unheard of for the "regular" flu to kill healthy young people. As this article mentioned, 76 children have died of H1N1 and the true flu season is just beginning. The usual number of pediatric deaths per flu season is 50 - 75. You'd have to be blind (or in serious denial) not to see the difference between H1N1 and "regular" flu.

I have done extensive research about H1N1 since this spring because everyone in my immediate family is in a high risk category for H1N1 complications. I have incorporated foods and nutritional supplements (including Vitamin D) that may help up deal with H1N1 into our daily routine. We have received our pneumonia vaccines and when the H1N1 vaccine is available, we will be getting it as well. Why does it have to be just one way or the other? I believe in taking the "natural" way to disease prevention and only medicate when necessary, but in the face of a virus that can kill a healthy young person in a matter of days, I won't be popping Vitamin D tablets and hoping for the best.
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pam haselow on 10/12/2009 14:09:04
who cares if this article has an antivaccine stance? Not wanting to inject yourself or your child with vaccines is a legitimate position and should be respected. And the CDC sites are neutral? It doesn't have to be one way or another but I choose not to believe the doom and gloom hype and will not expose my children or myself to an untested vaccine for what is proving to be a ho-hum illness for most. We are all healthy so that makes my choice much easier.
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Ryan on 10/12/2009 21:46:57
It seems, that people believe that the flu will attack healthy people, rather than the sick; well in this post, majority of them had underlying health conditions, which means that a majority of them were not healthy. Asthma, is an example of one of those underlying condition, and if you have asthma, that means your not healthy. So a majority are not healthy, apparently.

Well the Government's messages are going to make people get the H1N1 flu, instead of preventing it. They advise people to wash their hands "thoroughly" and "often"; if you follow that advice, your going to get sick. Washing you hands, constantly, is not a healthy option. You may be killing bad germs, but you re also killing good germs. Yes, i said good germs. It is a misconception that germs are always bad; but you actually have germs on your skin, which act as bodyguards against bad germs. So washing your hands, constantly will kill the bad germs, as well as the good germs; which will make you more susceptible to illness.

Since it is most likely for those who don't have enough enough vitamin D, that means people need to start going outside more, and stop wearing sun lotion, because the only thing that sun lotion prevents against, is sunburns. It does not prevent skin cancer, because sun lotion, is most likely the culprit of skin cancer. It stupid how people think, that we need to wash our hands, and wear special ointments, and stuff like that, when humans, have had no need for stuff like that for the majority of human existence. Thousands of years ago, humans would live full lives, and never worry about washing their hands or anything like that. They may have lived shorter lives than us, but they didn't know much about the human body. Without that knowledge, they didn't all just die, they still live good, long lives. I would say, a life expectancy of 40 - 60 years is still pretty good...
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Troy on 10/13/2009 23:16:16
One thing that gets me is how Medimmune (the company that makes the flumist vaccine) patented their flu vaccine for this exact strain of H1N1 back in 2008. The flumist has a weekend live virus so they would have had to know the exact structure of this virus in ordered to patent the vaccine. http://www.google.com/patents?id=EGSo...
Connecting the dots, we see that AHP changes its corporate name to Wyeth in 2002. We also know that AHP, doing business as "Genetics Institute" was heavily involved in the Ft. Detrick "genetic engineering" of viruses at Ft. Detrick, Maryland under the direction of Terrence Tumpey and Jeffrey Taubenberger during the span of years 1998-2002. From its website, we know that Wyeth: "Employs 1,800, and is one of the largest biopharmaceutical operations in the United States, housing 7 manufacturing sites and 21 bioreactors-further cementing the claim that Boston is the world's premier biotech corridor." This is important to understand, because a "bio-reactor" is a "particle accelerator" by which cellular gene splicing and mutation by computer-generated design can actually take place on a massive scale. In short, this Harvard-based "campus" is one of the few places on the planet where a "reverse-engineered" weaponized virus could be massively produced for commercial (or military) applications.

In 2002, Wyeth announced a joint venture with MedImmune, Inc. to produce a unique INFLUENZA VACCINE called "FluMist". FluMist is unique in the fact that it is a nasal-spray vaccine utilizing LIVE VIRUSES. According to a 2007 Washington Post article, this joint venture dissolved in 2003 thanks to slumping sales - yet, according to The Post's analysis, MedImmune's FluMist product "has potential" if a pandemic influenza vaccine is needed. (This would be especially true if MedImmune could patent the very VIRUSES utilized in its nasal spray product!)

MedImmune's corporate offices and research labs are located in Gaithersberg, Maryland - just down the road from the U.S. Institute of Pathology labs at Ft. Detrick, Maryland where Dr. J. Taubenberger successfully reverse-engineered the deadly 1918 "recombinant" pandemic virus. Shortly after finishing the "resurrection" project, Taubenberger leaves the employ of Ft. Detrick and goes to work for the National Institutes of Health's "National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases." (NIAID).

Completely by coincidence, of course, during this same time frame MedImmune files for PATENT PROTECTION on the genetically altered and reverse-engineered PANDEMIC INFLUENZA VIRUS in 2007!! The patent is granted, and MedImmune then assigns the patent to MedImmune Vaccines Inc. (it's vaccine manufacturing subsidiary) and to Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger's National Institutes of Health. This patent is VITAL in protecting MedImmune's USE OF THE ENGINEERED LIVE VIRUS in its FLuMist product.

FluMist, of course, is the vaccine of choice for use in schools and young children. (Patent protection could never have been granted for a truly "natural" seasonal virus.)

So...trust the government?? or the natural way of vitamin d and healthy living?
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