In fatal cases of 2009 H1N1 influenza, the virus can damage cells throughout the respiratory airway, much like the viruses that caused the 1918 and 1957 influenza pandemics, report researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
The scientists reviewed autopsy reports, hospital records and other clinical data from 34 people who died of 2009 H1N1 influenza infection between May 15 and July 9, 2009. All but two of the deaths occurred in New York City.
A microscopic examination of tissues throughout the airways revealed that the virus caused damage primarily to the upper airway—the trachea and bronchial tubes—but tissue damage in the lower airway, including deep in the lungs, was present as well. Evidence of secondary bacterial infection was seen in more than half of the victims…
“This study provides clinicians with a clear and detailed picture of the disease caused by 2009 H1N1 influenza virus that will help inform patient management,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “In fatal cases of 2009 H1N1 influenza, it appears the novel pandemic influenza virus produces pulmonary damage that looks very much like that seen in earlier influenza pandemics.”
The new report also underscores the impact 2009 H1N1 influenza is having on younger people. While most deaths from seasonal influenza occur in adults over 65 years old, deaths from 2009 H1N1 influenza occur predominately among younger people. The majority of deaths (62 percent) in the 34 cases studied were among those 25 to 49 years old; two infants were also among the fatal cases…
“This pattern of pathology in the airway tissues is similar to that reported in autopsy findings of victims of both the 1918 and 1957 influenza pandemics,” notes Dr. Taubenberger.
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