WASHINGTON — Government health officials are urging people not to panic over estimates of 90,000 people dying from swine flu this fall.
"Everything we've seen in the U.S. and everything we've seen around the world suggests we won't see that kind of number if the virus doesn't change," Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a C-SPAN interview taped Wednesday.
While the swine flu seems quite easy to catch, it so far hasn't been more deadly than the flu strains seen every fall and winter — many people have only mild illness. Close genetic tracking of the new virus as it circled the globe over the last five months so far has shown no sign that it's mutating to become more virulent.
Monday, the White House released a report from a group of presidential advisers that included a scenario where anywhere from 30 percent to half of the population could catch the "2009 H1N1" flu, and death possibilities ranged from 30,000 to 90,000. In a regular flu season, up to 20 percent of the population is infected and 36,000 die.
"We don't think that's the most likely scenario," a CDC flu specialist, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said of the presidential advisers' high-end tally.
What is likely: A busy flu season that starts earlier than usual, Schuchat said.
Challenge rejected: U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton on Wednesday denied an attempt by the advocacy group Coalition for Mercury-Free Drugs to prevent the government from giving pregnant women flu vaccines with a preservative that contains mercury. A small amount of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal is in most influenza shots, including swine flu vaccines, but some are produced thimerosal-free. The coalition argued that pregnant women should only get the thimerosal-free version. Walton ruled against the group's request for a preliminary injunction because he said it couldn't prove that pregnant women it represents would get vaccines containing thimerosal.