LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists studying swine flu have found that 70 children died from it in England in a 9 month period during the H1N1 pandemic and death rates were worst among ethnic minority children and those with other health problems.
In a study in the Lancet medical journal, Liam Donaldson, the former Chief Medical Officer for England, said children from the country’s Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities had much higher mortality than white British children, as did children with serious pre-existing illnesses — especially chronic neurological diseases such as cerebral palsy.
These high-risk groups should be a priority for H1N1 vaccination, Donaldson and his research team said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared the pandemic over in August, some 18,450 people worldwide are confirmed to have died from H1N1, including many pregnant women and young people. But the WHO says it will take at least a year after the pandemic ends to determine the true death toll, which is likely to be much higher.
Experts say H1N1 swine flu virus has now taken over as the main seasonal flu strain and health authorities that run annual flu campaigns have included it in regular seasonal flu vaccines.
Donaldson’s team said their findings of high death rates among ethnic minorities were consistent with reports from the United States of minorities suffering more severe illness during the H1N1 pandemic.
“This finding might be attributable to clustering of pandemic influenza A H1N1 cases in areas of England with high ethnic minority populations — such as London and the West Midlands,” they wrote in their study.
The findings in England also showed that from 26 June 2009 to 22 March 2010:
* The overall childhood death rate for H1N1 was 6 per million population.
* The rate was highest for children aged under 1 year, at 14 deaths per million population.
* Death rates were higher for Bangladeshi children (47 deaths per million population) and Pakistani children (36) than for white British children (4).
* Of the 70 children who died of H1N1, 21 percent were previously healthy and 64 percent had severe pre-existing disorders.
* Overall, 45 of the children had received the antiviral flu drug oseltamivir, sold under the brand name Tamiflu, but only seven had had it within 48 hours of the onset of their symptoms and only three had it before they were admitted to hospital.
* Only two of the children who died had received an H1N1 vaccine — too late for it to be effective.
Editing by Steve Addison