Government health officials say swine flu has sickened about 22 million Americans since April, and about 4,000 have died, including 540 children.
The new figures—about four times higher than previous death estimates—don’t mean swine flu has suddenly gotten worse. Instead, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week called them a long-awaited better attempt to understand the true toll.
The CDC now believes that about 98,000 people have been hospitalized in the first six months of the nation’s swine-flu epidemic, including 36,000 children.
In a typical winter, seasonal-flu strains cause 200,000 U.S. hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths, the vast majority in people over 65. While seasonal flu doesn’t usually break out until November, swine flu began a big climb in September, leading to what the CDC called unprecedented high levels of illness so early in a season—and no way to know when the flu will peak.
A version of this article appeared in the November 18, 2009 edition of Education Week as Health Officials Set Swine-Flu Toll On U.S. Children at 540 Deaths