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Future Flu Pandemic Could Cost 62 Million Lives: Report

Data from 1918-20 outbreak predicts poor countries would be hit hardest

THURSDAY, Dec. 21, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A worldwide influenza pandemic could kill up to 62 million people in a year, and 96 percent of the victims would be in developing countries, according to an article in the Dec. 23 issue of The Lancet.

Researchers made the prediction after they analyzed death data from 27 countries during the 1918-20 influenza pandemic.

If a pandemic were to occur now, death rates would vary by 30-fold across countries. People with high incomes would be less likely to die than poor people, the researchers said.

"Our results indicate that, irrespective of the lethality of the virus, the burden of the next influenza pandemic will be overwhelmingly focused in the developing world, as has been suggested for the 1918-20 pandemic," study author Christopher Murray of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., said in a prepared statement.

In an accompanying comment in the same issue of The Lancet, Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, wrote: "So what can be done to mitigate the depressingly familiar wealth-related distribution of disease burden predicted by Murray and colleagues? Access to vaccines, antivirals, and antibiotics for the most vulnerable populations is clearly part of the solution."

In countries with few medical resources, public health measures such as household quarantine, school closures, and mask-wearing may be useful. However, Ferguson noted that more research needs to be done to determine how effective such public health measures on their own would be during a pandemic.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about pandemic flu.

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Dec. 21, 2006
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