Deathly flu season predicted

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Swine flu could infect half the U.S. population this year, hospitalize 1.8 million people and kill 90,000.

That’s the word from a Bloomberg report, and groups are urging President Barack Obama to speed vaccine production and name a senior member of the White House staff to take responsibility for making decisions during the pandemic.

The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology also urge that vaccinations for the disease be available as early as the middle of September to vaccinate 40 million people. Estimates are that a vaccination will be ready by mid-October.

Seasonal flu usually kills about 36,000 people nationwide, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Swine flu, he said, is a more severe illness that hospitalizes much younger people than seasonal flu – but leaves people 65 and older unscathed.

“This isn’t the flu we’re used to,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “The 2009 H1N1 virus will cause a more serious threat this fall. We won’t know until we’re in the middle of the flu season how serious the threat is, but because it is a new strain, it’s likely to infect more people than usual.”

The report shows in a “plausible scenario” between 30 and 50 percent of the population will be infected. As many as 300,000 patients may be treated in intensive care units, filling 50 percent to 100 percent of the available beds and 30,000 to 90,000 people may die.