Regular seasonal flu affects anywhere from 15 million to 60 million Americans each year. Other health problems have been a contributory factor in most cases: about one in three of the hospital cases had asthma or chronic lung disease, 16% diabetes, 12% immune system problems and 11% chronic heart disease besides 10% are current smokers and 7% are pregnant women.
An analysis of 99 of the 127 Americans who died of swine flu shows that 87 of them also suffered from one underlying condition or the other: 11% had asthma, 24% other lung diseases, 13% diabetes, 11% morbid obesity and 34% obesity.
"We knew diagnosed cases were just the tip of the iceberg," said Dr William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert attending the Atlanta meeting.
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Meanwhile, the virus is continuing its spread through the Southern Hemisphere, infecting more persons. In the Southern Hemisphere, which is one month into its flu season, several countries, particularly Chile, Argentina and Australia, are already feeling the effects of the new virus. Chile has more than 4,000 laboratory-confirmed cases and seven deaths, Argentina more than 1,200 cases and 17 deaths, and Australia 3,200 cases and three deaths.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) based in the Swiss city of Geneva, as of Wednesday, there were 238 confirmed deaths, besides 55,867 laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu in 109 countries attributed to the A(H1N1) virus since the epidemic broke out in Mexico.