When it comes to the H1N1 virus there are several unknowns. However, one thing is for sure: The number of confirmed cases are “significantly” underreported.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from April through July — when the virus first hit everyone’s radar — for every reported case, there were 79 more cases that went unreported. And for every hospitalization, there were about three patients that were not hospitalized.
With that in mind, the health organization estimates that about 47 million people were infected with H1N1 this year, which contributed to about 213,000 hospitalizations and about 10,000 deaths.
By comparison, the CDC reports that the seasonal flu is responsible for about 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths each year.
While local H1N1 statistics aren’t available, statewide data is available to give regional perspective to the outbreak.
“We only report hospitalizations and deaths on a statewide basis,” said Dave Palmer, District 2 Public Health spokesman. “In Georgia, there have been 694 hospitalizations and 41 deaths associated with the H1N1 virus.
District 2 covers 13 counties, including Hall, Banks, Dawson and Forsyth.
Keeping track of seasonal flu deaths is more complicated than with H1N1 because states are not required to report individual deaths related to the seasonal flu for people who are older than 18, the CDC reports.
“Traditionally, no one tracks as many specifics related to the (seasonal) flu as they did this year,” said Lisa Marie Shekell, Georgia Department of Community Health spokeswoman.
Although the rates of reported H1N1 cases has slowed — in Georgia, hospitalizations and deaths peaked at 81 and eight respectively in mid-September — residents still should consider being vaccinated.
Initially there were some concerns that the H1N1 vaccination would lead to increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder that leads to an individual’s immune system damaging nerves, sometimes leading to paralysis. The CDC has been monitoring the vaccination and reports that currently there are no links to GBS-related problems and the 2009 H1N1 vaccine.
Recently two manufacturers — Sanofi Pasteur and MedImmune — voluntarily recalled specific batches of their H1N1 vaccinations for nonsafety reasons.
Specific lots of the vaccines were recalled because, during regular quality control tests, the earlier batches were found to be at less than full strength, but still expected to be effective.
The MedImmune recall impacted fewer than 2,500 doses in Hall County. In both situations, the majority of the doses — which were shipped out in October and November — had been given to patients while they were at full strength. That eliminates the need for those patients to be revaccinated.
“People should still consider getting vaccinated because the flu viruses could have another wave of activity,” Shekell said. “There is still a chance that people can be infected. Traditionally, we see the most flu cases in January and February. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your family.”