Health authorities in the United States have voiced concern that 40% of the country’s whole population could be infected with the swine flu (H1N1) virus over the next 24 months. The estimates are based on data gleaned from the 1957 flu pandemic which killed nearly 70,000 people in the country. That pandemic was not as severe as the 1918-1919 Spanish flu one. If one hundred and twenty million people caught swine flu this time round, and vaccine campaigns were not successful, the eventual death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands.

Such a level of infection would be double the expected number during a normal flu season, say experts. However, if an effective vaccine were to come out in time many immunized people would show no symptoms – that is, if the vaccine worked and authorities managed to get enough of them out there.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) informs that approximately 160 million doses of swine flu vaccines should be available in October, as long as they pass testing. Testing has not started yet but will soon, officials say. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development say testing will start in August, involving 1,000 volunteers in 8 centers around the country.

The American Medical Association estimates that approximately 36,000 Americans die each year from flu and complications from flu.

About 2 billion people are expected to become infected with swine flu worldwide over the next 24 months, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. WHO added that we are in the initial phase of the current pandemic.

WHO has asked countries to seriously consider closing schools as a measure to slow down the spread of infection.

It is now virtually impossible to know accurately how many people have been infected so far. A significant proportion of infected individuals never go and see their doctor and recover completely by staying at home and self-medicating with OTC drugs. Others may go to see their doctor with some mild flu like symptoms and be sent home and told to drink plenty of fluids and rest.

Officials at the CDC say that it is likely that over one million Americans have so far been infected since the virus first started infecting people in April this year.

American and Japanese researchers have discovered that the Swine Flu virus reaches deeper into the lungs than normal seasonal flu. This may well indicate that it is more virulent than first thought.

The Department of Health, UK, reported that about 100,000 people became infected last week – double the total during the week before. Help lines and a new website have been set up. The National Flu Service was set up whereby patients can access flu drugs on the phone and via the internet without having to see their doctor. The website received over 9 million hits per hour initially.

UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said that while the numbers rose from 55,000 to 100,000, the number of people being hospitalized for flu rose from 652 to 840 – a much lower percentage increase, which is encouraging. “There is no evidence to suggest it is becoming more virulent. Most people with no underlying conditions will get over the flu perfectly well,” he said in a BBC interview. UK authorities said Tamiflu stocks are very high and there is absolutely no danger of running out.

Developing countries worry that when vaccines are ready they will be bought up by rich countries, leaving very little for the rest of the world.

Written by Christian Nordqvist