The 2009 swine flu outbreak may have killed 15 times more people worldwide than originally estimated, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
The survey was the first to estimate the death toll, which the World Health Organization originally pegged at 18,500 people, Bloomberg reported. New research shows the death toll from the outbreak is closer to 284,500 people, with most of the newly found deaths occurring Africa and southeast Asia.
The World Health Organization originally estimated that 12 percent of all swine flu deaths took place in these regions, but the CDC’s new study found that more than half of all deaths happened there. During the initial outbreak, many countries in these regions lacked the ability to perform lab testing and identify whether deaths occurred from H1N1-related diseases, CNN reported.
Published in the London-based journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, the study said the true death toll of the outbreak could have still be much higher—as many as 579,000 people, Reuters reported.
The World Health Organization was actually criticized for exaggerating the threat of the H1N1 virus at first, but the new death toll estimates show the difficulty of tracking a pandemic as its unfolding, researchers wrote in an editorial. The World Health Organization officially declared swine flu a pandemic in August 2010, one year following its initial outbreak. By the time it was declared a pandemic it had moved to 214 countries and has now become one of three seasonal flu strains circulating worldwide, Bloomberg reported.
“This pandemic really did take an enormous toll,” Dr. Fatimah Dawood, the study’s leader at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters. “Our results also suggest how best to deploy resources. If a vaccine were to become available, we need to make sure it reached the areas where the death toll is likely to be highest.”