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Just when it appeared that the swine flu outbreak was beginning to subside, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday night that an assistant principal at a Queens school was critically ill from the virus and that three Queens schools would be closed until next Friday to slow its spread.
Workers target swine flu virus at 3 NYC schools
NEW YORK (AP) — Maintenance workers are scrubbing down three public schools in New York City that were closed because of a swine flu outbreak.
The city's Education Department spokeswoman Margie Feinberg says desks, tables, floors, doors and door handles are being disinfected.
The city announced Thursday that it was closing the schools in Queens after hundreds of children went home sick with flu symptoms.
WHO chief warns against false security about flu
* WHO chief says too early to relax about flu outbreaks
* Margaret Chan calls for fast sharing of H1N1 virus samples
* Warns newly-discovered strain may have global implications
* Parts of Southeast Asia seen at particular threat
(Adds comments on vaccine production, latest WHO tally)
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), Sanofi-Aventis SASY.O, Novartis (NOVN.VX), Baxter International (BAX.N) and other pharmaceutical companies others are awaiting WHO guidance about whether to start mass-producing vaccines to fight H1N1, which may force them to cut production of seasonal flu shots.
The problem is, we can't compare those numbers. The official swine flu deaths are from patients who were confirmed by lab tests to have been infected with the H1N1 strain. The 36,000 figure, by contrast, isn't a count of people whose death certificate lists "flu" as cause of death; in 2005, the total number of those was just 1,812. But people who die of flu are often no longer infected when they die. Instead, they succumb to pneumonia or heart disease or emphysema—ailments they would have survived if they hadn't been weakened by the flu. That's why the 2,000 or so certified flu deaths represent an underestimate of the flu's real cost.
How does the CDC come up with 34,000 more flu victims? The number comes from a 2003 study led by William W. Thompson. All winter, about 80 labs across the United States continually test patients for flu virus, so we have a pretty good estimate for the number of Americans infected with flu in any given week of the last 20 years. We also know how many Americans total died each week.
Suppose 52,000 people died in the first week of February 2004; 55,000 in the same week in 2005; 51,000 in 2006; and 54,000 in 2007. Suppose furthermore that the number of influenza specimens confirmed by labs was 1,000, 2,500, 500, and 2,000 in the four weeks in question. Then it certainly looks like the flu is killing people (whether directly or by opening the door to another lethal illness) at a rate of about two deaths per confirmed specimen; in a world without influenza, the death rate would be constant at 50,000 per week.
In real life, though, the numbers aren't that clean—they never are. Lots of nonflu factors push the death rate around from week to week and year to year. But a statistical technique called regression allows us to find the value of X such that the formula
[Total deaths] = [Deaths if there were no such thing as flu] + X*[number of confirmed flu cases]
matches the data as closely as possible. The rightmost term, X*[number of confirmed flu cases], is then our estimate for the number of deaths you can attribute to flu. In the example above, you'd choose [Deaths without flu] to be 50,000 and X to be 2. And if 18,000 specimens test positive for flu over the course of a year, you'd blame 36,000 deaths on the flu.