January 8, 2010

Study tracks mortality risk of H1N1 virus for children

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Vanderbilt’s Fernando Polack, M.D., is studying the impact of the H1N1 influenza virus on children in his home country of Argentina. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Study tracks mortality risk of H1N1 virus for children

A Vanderbilt researcher, while working in his native country of Argentina, has found that children with H1N1 influenza die at a rate 10 times higher than those who suffer from seasonal flu.

Fernando Polack, M.D., the Cesar Milstein associate professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt, describes the serious impact of the H1N1 influenza virus on children in an article titled “Pediatric Hospitalizations Associated with H1N1 Influenza in Argentina,” published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The overall death rate with H1N1 was 1.1 per 100,000 children, compared to 0.1 per 100,000 for seasonal flu in 2007.

Polack also details which children were at highest risk. Due to Argentina's location in the southern hemisphere, Polack was able to collect detailed surveillance data during the peak of the H1N1 virus outbreak in Buenos Aires in June.

His cohort included six hospitals that combine to serve 1.2 million children.

“One thing that was striking was the tremendous impact on hospital logistics. Routine surgeries were cancelled, mass infection control practices were put in place, wards doubled, particularly in ICU's, with everyone working over capacity. It was pretty rough,” Polack said.

Kathryn Edwards, M.D., Sarah Sell Chair in Pediatrics and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program (VVRP), is a co-author on the article.

Edwards said the H1N1 outbreak showcases opportunities which can result from observing opposing seasonal illness peaks from the Northern to the Southern hemispheres. The hope is that scientists can learn to respond more quickly to a developing pandemic.

“Flu is a global disease and we need to work together to understand and deal with each flu virus,” Edwards said.

The first author of the article is Argentinean pediatrician Romina Libster, M.D., who is currently in Nashville working as a research specialist with the VVRP. Libster said Polack realized what was happening when reports began to arise in Mexico that a new flu virus was causing serious illness.