WHO Reports on Impact of the 2009 H1N1 Flu Season

Pregnant women and obese individuals were much more likely to become severely ill from exposure to the H1N1 virus compared with the general population, according to a new WHO report.

One year after the first case of H1N1 influenza—also known as swine flu—was diagnosed in the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report outlining the 2009-2010 H1N1 epidemic’s global impact.

The WHO estimates that 59 million individuals became ill in the United States alone as a result of H1N1 exposure as of mid-February 2010, with 265,000 of those requiring hospitalization. An estimated 12,000 Americans died from the swine flu.

Worldwide, children and young adults were most likely to become ill from H1N1, with children under age 5 mostly likely to require hospitalization, according to the report. Despite this, the overall fatality rate among hospitalized patients was actually lowest among children and highest among those aged 50 or older.

The WHO researchers also found that pregnant women, especially those in the second or third trimester, and women who were less than 2 weeks postpartum were disproportionately represented in the rates of illness and death. Severely obese (body mass index [BMI] ≥35) and morbidly obese (BMI ≥40) individuals were 5 to 15 times more likely to contract severe or fatal cases of swine flu than the general population.

For pharmacists, the information in the WHO report will be critically important when preparing for the 2010-2011 flu season. Parents of young children, pregnant women, women who have recently given birth, and obese individuals should be counseled to get vaccinated against H1N1 early, to reduce the high rates of illness and death seen in 2009-2010.

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