Autopsies show that he H1N1 swine flu virus is causing deep, fatal lung infections rarely seen in seasonal flu but common with the deadly avian strain, experts reported today.
Reuters tells us that "this virus is different from seasonal influenza, even if it has not yet caused more deaths."
Tests on about 100 Americans who have died from swine flu virus found that they had infections deep in their lungs, which caused acute respiratory distress syndrome. Often fatal, it fills the air sacs with fluid, starves the blood of oxygen and leaves patients gasping for breath. Basically, patients suffocate or drown.
Unlike seasonal flu, the H1N1 virus frequently causes severe problems in younger adults and children.
"This is almost exactly what we see with avian flu. This looks like avian flu on steroids," Dr. Sherif Zaki of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told flu experts meeting in Washington.
• 90% of those killed by the virus had an underlying condition that made them susceptible to serious diseases.
• The median age was 38. One victim was 2 months old who died a day after becoming ill.
• 46% were obese; 27% had heart disease; 22% had asthma, and many had fatty liver disease.
Separately, several new studies suggest that people infected with the swine flu virus are contagious longer — up to a week — than those suffering seasonal flu.
So far, the World Health Organization has confirmed 3,205 deaths globally from swine flu. Experts say, however, that all estimates are grossly understated because so few patients are ever tested for the H1N1 virus.
Worldwide, seasonal flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people a year.
Also today, the Food and Drug Administration approved the new swine flu vaccine, clearing the way for vaccinations to begin next month.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the approval during a congressional hearing. She said the bulk of the vaccine, which is being produced by four firms, will start arriving Oct. 15 and should be available at 90,000 sites nationwide.
Read the FDA's news release.