Global Alert and Response (GAR)

Who is more at risk of severe illness? What about other risks?

24 February 2010

Who is more at risk of severe illness from pandemic (H1N1) 2009?

Some groups of people appear to be at higher risk of more complicated or severe illness, including:

  • pregnant women;
  • infants, and young children particularly under age 2;
  • people of any age with certain chronic health conditions (including asthma or lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease or some neurological conditions);
  • people with severely compromised immune systems.

Currently, people age 65 or older are the least likely to be infected with the pandemic influenza, but those who do get sick are also at high risk of developing serious complications, just as they are from seasonal flu.

Are there special recommendations for pregnant women or other higher risk groups?

WHO recommends that pregnant women, or others at higher risk of severe illness and their caregivers, be vaccinated against pandemic influenza and take all the necessary precautions, including hygiene measures, to prevent the spread of illness.

Vaccination against the pandemic influenza is prudent for everyone to reduce chances of infection.

What about the risk of catching pandemic flu?

The pandemic influenza virus appears to be equally as transmissible and infectious among people as seasonal influenza viruses.

Studies to estimate how infectious the virus is among populations are in progress. Recent studies in the United Kingdom indicate that about one-third of school children in the country have been infected with the virus so far.

What about risk of death?

The majority of people with pandemic influenza experience mild illness and the overall risk of dying from this infection is low.

To date, the number of laboratory-confirmed deaths from the pandemic flu is over 16,000 cases but the real death toll is believed to be much higher.

It will only be possible to accurately estimate the total number of deaths, and death rates among certain groups, one to two years after the pandemic has peaked. The estimate will be calculated using statistical methods based on available data and medical records.

(updated from 1 May 2009 version)

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