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What would a serious flu epidemic look like today?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

An influenza pandemic similar to that of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 in today's world could be very serious. In 1918, influenza infected roughly 30 percent of the world population, with a death rate of about 10 percent. Simply extrapolating the figures from that pandemic to today's world population yields an estimated incidence of nearly 2 billion, with approximately 180 million deaths. Illness on this level would likely overwhelm medical and public health resources even in developed countries. Suffering and death as a result of such a pandemic would likely be devastating in developing countries.

A serious flu epidemic today would possibly look much like the H1N1, or swine flu, outbreak that began in April 2009 and lasted until the summer of 2010. Within two months, the flu had spread to 74 different countries. There were 18,000 known cases in the U.S. alone. Fortunately, just 6 days after the first case of swine flu was identified, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began working on an H1N1 vaccine. Seven months later, just as cases of swine flu began to decline, 61 million doses of the vaccine were available. Ultimately, 80 million people were vaccinated against H1N1 flu virus, which helped to minimize its impact.

By the time the epidemic was declared over, in the summer of 2010, the CDC estimated that as many as 89 million people had been sick with H1N1 flu, and that as many as 18,300 people had died. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.