In a normal flu season, 90% of deaths are in elderly people. Since September, 90% of deaths have been in people under age 65 -- with almost a quarter of the deaths in young people under age 25.
"It is almost completely reversed. Nearly 90% of our fatalities are occurring in people under 65," CDC respiratory disease chief Anne Schuchat, MD, said at a news conference. "This illustrates this H1N1 virus is disproportionally affecting the young."
As might be expected from the death toll, most people hospitalized with severe H1N1 swine flu are young. Surveillance data from 27 states show that more than half of swine flu hospitalizations -- 53% -- are in people under age 25. Only 7% of people hospitalized with swine flu are elderly.
While the majority of severe H1N1 swine flu cases are in people with conditions that put them at risk of flu complications, not all these conditions are severe. Well-treated asthma, for example, is common. And pregnancy isn't an illnesses at all. Yet the risk is there.
"Completely healthy pregnant women are coming down with horrible, horrible illnesses -- and, tragically more deaths," Schuchat said. "And some conditions like asthma which is well controlled. So even if you have diabetes that's well controlled, if you have asthma that's well controlled, we want to you think of yourself as a higher risk and recommend that you be vaccinated."
H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Rollout Still Bumpy
If you're thinking of taking the CDC's advice and getting your H1N1 swine flu shot (or sniff), it's time to start making plans.
The first vaccines are going to health care workers and people at risk of flu complications. So far, about 13 million doses have been available to states, more than half in the form of flu shots. States have placed orders for about 11 million of those doses; those orders are being filled quickly.
Spread nationwide, that means not everyone who should get the vaccine will be able to get it this week, or even next week. Availability is increasing, but it's unlikely that the vaccine will reach everyone who wants it before the end of November.
Will that be too late? The CDC's mantra is, "It's too early to say it's too late."
Schuchat points to what happened in 1957, when pandemic flu hit hard in the early fall -- and was followed by a second wave of flu.
"In 1957, the pandemic hit early around September/October, like what we're seeing here. They had another big wave after the first of the year," Schuchat said. "And I think we have an opportunity right now to try to limit the disease and to protect as many people as we can with the vaccine as it becomes available."
Meanwhile, Schuchat said, the CDC is not planning to stop its H1N1 swine flu effort when all 250 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered.
"At CDC, we're planning a long response. We don't want to let our guard down too soon on this," she said.