Is H1N1 More Dangerous Than Flu?

Swine flu doesnt result in more deaths than seasonal flu

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Think back to the panic around swine flu in 2009, the first time H1N1 appeared on the scene. Did you think it was more deadly than the normal, run-of-the-mill flu?

A group of researchers looked back in the hospital data to see if fears were justified.

They found that in children, there was no significant difference between the two strains of flu, in terms of the number of children admitted to intensive care units, and the number of children who died.

"Vaccinate your children each year."

The study was conducted by a Canadian research team, led by Dr. Dat Tran of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Although some studies have found that swine flu was more dangerous than seasonal flu, others have contradicted this finding and concluded that the two strains of flu take a similar course.

Seasonal flu comes around every year, and people are encouraged to avoid it with a yearly vaccine that protects against three common strains of the virus.

When swine flu broke out in 2009, people were not vaccinated against it.

Many public health experts now consider H1N1, the proper name for swine flu, to be a type of seasonal flu. They want to understand how it differs from a normal flu, in order to learn how to treat and prevent it more effectively.

In this study focusing on pediatric flu, researchers used data from 12 children's hospitals. They found a number of differences in the way that the illness plays out.

Children with H1N1 were more likely to have symptoms of cough, headache, and gastrointestinal problems, and take antivirals at the hospital. The virus affected more children of minority ethnicities, and they were also likely to be older than children with seasonal flu.

H1N1 left children in the hospital for a longer period of time, and led to more diagnoses of pneumonia. But even though the flu was more severe, it did not lead to more admittances into the ICU, or an increase in the number of deaths compared to seasonal flu.

Besides dispelling the myth of increased deadliness, the study emphasized the fact that some ethnic groups are more at risk than others. Non-European children were the most heavily impacted by H1N1.

That finding might be important during a pandemic, for public health officials to prioritize protecting those who are at highest risk. But you never know when a flu can change its patterns – it's the nature of any flu to continually mutate and evolve.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics in August 2012.

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Review Date: 
August 21, 2012
Last Updated:
October 5, 2012