for National Geographic News
It's back-to-school time again, and this year there's a new bully on the block: swine flu, or H1N1.
The virus may infect up to half of the U.S. population this fall and winter and may lead to between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths, according to a new report released by a U.S. presidential advisory group.
By comparison, about 36,000 people die of seasonal flu in the United States each year, and several hundred thousand are hospitalized.
Because people do not have immunity to the strain, H1N1 "poses a serious health threat to the nation," the report said.
Already in the United States, between April 15 and July 24, 2009, more than 43,000 people have fallen ill with swine flu and 302 have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The virus has swept the globe during the Southern Hemisphere's winter, killing nearly 1,500 people.
The World Health Organization estimates that H1N1 could infect 1 of every 3 people before the pandemic runs its course—about two billion people worldwide.
The good news is that H1N1's effects are largely similar to those of seasonal flu, and most people who contract it recover without medical treatment.
Vaccines may be one way to steer clear of H1N1—for those who are able to get them.
Production and distribution delays will set back the agency's vaccination time line, according to CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner.
Instead of 100 million doses expected for mid-October, only about 45 million will be ready by that date, with the rest following at a rate of 20 million doses a week until December.
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