Roundup: H1N1, One Year Later

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Today is the first anniversary of the first known H1N1 death -- that of a government worker in Oaxaca, Mexico -- and there is no shortage of reflection on how the pandemic was addressed.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reports, A committee of experts appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) convened today to begin evaluating the agency s and the world s response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic, with WHO Director-General Margaret Chan urging the group to pull no punches.

One expert already pulling no punches is Dr. Richard P. Wenzel, professor of internal medicine and a specialist in infectious diseases at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Wenzel writes in today s New York Times, While the epidemic never became as deadly as we initially feared, it was not as mild as some experts now believe. What s more, it exposed some serious shortcomings in the world s public health response.

Dr. Wenzel explains that the belief that the H1N1 flu was mild is based on the mortality rate in the U.S. as compared to that of previous seasonal flu viruses, says ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross. He argues that statistics from underdeveloped countries were poorly collected, and that the virus may have been much more devastating than is now assumed. This is especially tragic because many of these countries did not have access to the vaccine despite huge surpluses in the U.S. and Europe.

Experts meeting at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases are looking ahead. According to AFP:

[University of Rotterdam virologist Albert Osterhaus of the Netherlands] said he was concerned that since the H1N1/A virus, or swine flu, epidemic has somewhat subsided, countries might let down their guard against spreading viruses. My worry is that we have become a little complacent because of this so-called wimpy flu, that we start to forget about the H5N1, referring to the often more dangerous bird flu virus.

The AFP cites the WHO figure for worldwide deaths from H1N1 since its outbreak in April 2009 as 16,813, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. We find that much too low. There were 12,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, and it s hard to reconcile this data with the analysis of Dr. Wenzel about the virus toll on underdeveloped countries.

This is a time when everyone is positioning themselves for how we tackle the next pandemic, says ACSH s Jeff Stier. Experts all over the world are talking about what happened and what we should do differently with the next years flu viruses. On one hand, we have people saying that it was devastating and the reaction in terms of procuring vaccine was appropriate. On the other hand, there are experts like ACSH Trustee Dr. Henry Miller, who says that the reaction was inefficient and overblown. The first draft of the history of H1N1 is being written.