The H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, largely affects vulnerable, high-risk groups and those with weakened immune systems, according to the health experts. Experts also said the fatal cases experienced in Turkey are in line with H1N1 deaths in the rest of the world.
Health experts said those with weakened immune systems are more likely to be infected with the virus, regardless of the patient’s age.
Turkey’s swine flu death toll reached nine on Monday. The victims included a 29-year-old hospital janitor in Ankara; a 27-year-old man who also worked as a janitor in Ankara; a 34-year-old woman in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır; and a 37-year-old woman, a 22-month-old girl and a 14-year-old boy who had a chronic disease in the central city of Konya. The most recent fatal case was a 4-year-old girl in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa.
The Health Ministry has announced that high-risk groups for the H1N1 virus include children under 2, people with long-term chronic diseases, pregnant women and those over 65. According to health experts, the fatalities in Turkey do not contradict the high-risk guidelines, although the ages of the swine flu victims were generally unlike the at-risk groups in the ministerial statement.
Virus hits those with weakened immune systems
“We haven’t actually accumulated satisfactory data to make a comment on the issue within such a short period, but the majority of patients who are diagnosed with the virus and undergo treatment in hospitals are from the vulnerable, high-risk groups, including children in particular,” said Associate Professor Funda Timurkaynak of Başkent University Faculty of Medicine’s infectious disease department, in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
“When we look at the backgrounds of those who have died of the swine influenza in Turkey, we see one was pregnant and some were chronic-disease carriers.”
The 34-year-old woman in Diyarbakır, who was the second death in the swine flu epidemic, was reported to have been eight months pregnant when she was admitted to the hospital for a premature delivery. In addition, the 22-month-old girl and the 14-year-old boy who died of the virus were reported to have suffered from a chronic disease, according to the Health Ministry. Finally, the two who died in Ankara both worked at a hospital.
Timurkaynak said international surveys show the swine flu virus mostly attacks those with chronic illnesses such as liver and kidney disease, diabetes or cancer, as well as children under 5 and the elderly. However, adults aged 20 to 49 are still at risk – especially if they suffer from weakened immune systems.
A similar virus emerged in the 1950s and the immune system of some older people, especially those born before 1957, is more resilient to impacts of the swine flu compared to children and younger generations, according to Timurkaynak.
A survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine supports Timurkaynak’s remarks. The survey was conducted among 272 patients who were hospitalized and tested positive for the swine influenza virus in the United States from April to mid-June.
Of the 272 patients, 45 percent of the patients were children under 18 and 5 percent were 65 years or older. Some 73 percent of the patients had at least one underlying medical condition, including asthma, diabetes, heart, lung and neurological diseases or pregnancy.
Associate Professor Bilgin Arda from the infectious diseases department of Ege University’s Medicine Faculty, said the virus is new and that it is too early to comment on it given the limited number of swine flu cases.
“However, the fatal cases in Turkey were from the high-risk groups,” Arda said.