Swine Flu Death Rate Comparable to AIDS, Drownings; Officials Push Public to Seek Out Shots
The most troubling thing about swine flu, a.k.a. H1N1, is who it kills: Young people. Or, if not young, certainly younger than any normal idea of "old."
With seasonal flu, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people over age 65, experts say.
In Arizona this year, 103 people are confirmed to have died of swine flu, according to the latest statistics. About 90 percent of those deaths have occurred in people under age 65.
Going strictly by the numbers, more Arizonans have died of swine flu this year than of drownings last year. Far more died of the flu so far than have been killed in the last decade by bees, venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, lightning, dogs, or floods -- combined.
The virus even gives HIV a run for its money. AIDS killed 50 Arizonans ages 20-44 in 2008, state stats show. Swine flu has so far killed 40 Arizonans between the ages of 19 and 49.
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True, an estimated 85 percent of Arizona swine-flu victims had an underlying medical condition, like asthma, pregnancy, or a chronic heart or lung disease. And if you compare the swine-flu death toll to the state's population, it turns out that only .0016 of a percent of residents have succumbed to this new flu.
There's clearly no need for panic.
But "you should be worried enough to get the flu shot," says Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director for the immunization program office of the Arizona Department of Health Services. "This is much different than regular, seasonal flu."
In general, people are more susceptible to getting the new flu than regular flu, to which many people have become immune through exposure. The country averages 36,000 seasonal flu deaths a year, based on 5 to 10 percent of the population getting the flu, while swine flu infects 30 to 40 percent of the population, Lewis says.
Lewis insists the vaccine is safe.
More than 888,000 doses of vaccine have so far been shipped to Arizona, though all have yet to be given to people. As of last week, 67 people reported feeling ill effects after taking the vaccine, she says.
"I look over them every week," Lewis says of the reports on possible side-effects. "Some have a rash, or an upset stomach."
The nasal-spray vaccine, which contains a live, weakened virus, "might give you a bit of a stuffy nose," Lewis says. "[The spray] may work a little bit better in kids than the shots. It gives you better immunity in your nose."
To find a flu shot near you, try the locator ap on the government Web site, www.flu.gov.