President Obama's science advisers warned Monday that swine flu could infect nearly half the U.S. population this fall and winter and cause up to 90,000 deaths, mostly in kids and young adults. The estimate is double the deaths normally associated with the seasonal flu.
The report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology laid out a "plausible scenario" where the H1N1 virus could infect 60 million to 120 million people. As many as 1.8 million people could be admitted to hospitals with up to 300,000 of them requiring treatment in intensive care units, the council found.
The number of people hospitalized could put a strain on the U.S. healthcare system because those patients could completely fill intensive care beds at the peak of the flu season. The report estimates that the epidemic will peak on October 15, the exact date U.S. health officials are expected to deliver a vaccine.
"This is going to be fairly serious," said Harold E. Varmus of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, cochair of the 21-member council. "It's going to stress every aspect of our health system."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the H1N1 virus "unusual" because it typically infects children and young adults. "This isn't the flu that we're used to," Sebelius said. "The 2009 H1N1 virus will cause a more serious threat this fall."
The council recommended that manufacturers speed up the preparation of the flu vaccine so it can be distributed to high-risk patients such as pregnant women by mid-September. Originally, the government expected 120 million doses to be available on October 15, but U.S. health officials now estimates there will only be 45 million available, with 20 million more each week through December.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that parents get their family vaccinated once the shot is available.