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Swine Flu Spread Comparable to Pandemic Flu

Last Updated: May 14, 2009.

The current swine flu outbreak originating in Mexico appears to spread substantially faster than seasonal flu and is comparable to the low end of pandemic flu outbreaks, although the virus appears to be less severe than the 1918 pandemic flu, according to a study published online May 11 in Science.

THURSDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) -- The current swine flu outbreak originating in Mexico appears to spread substantially faster than seasonal flu and is comparable to the low end of pandemic flu outbreaks, although the virus appears to be less severe than the 1918 pandemic flu, according to a study published online May 11 in Science.

Christophe Fraser, Ph.D., from the Imperial College London, and colleagues estimated the transmissibility and severity of the current swine flu outbreak (influenza A H1N1) using early data on international spread and viral genetic diversity from the outbreak in Mexico.

As of late April, the researchers estimated that 23,000 individuals had been infected in Mexico with a case-fatality ratio of 0.4 percent based on confirmed and suspected deaths. Transmissibility was 1.4 to 1.6 cases generated per case using three different epidemiological analyses and 1.2 cases generated per case based on a genetic analysis of the virus, suggesting that 14 to 73 generations of human-to-human transmission have occurred. The transmissibility of the virus appears to be substantially higher than seasonal flu, according to the authors, while clinical severity is similar to the 1957 flu and less than the 1918 flu.

"Overall, our transmissibility estimates are consistent with the lowest values used in earlier detailed computer simulations used to study scenarios in pandemic mitigation, meaning the conclusions regarding control policy effectiveness reached by those analyses could be relevant to the current epidemic," the authors conclude. "However, the key trade-off remains the balancing of the economic and societal cost of interventions, such as school closure, against the numbers of lives saved through use of such measures."

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