WHO initially reported 18,631 lab-confirmed deaths from 2009's "swine flu" epidemic—but a new study by epidemiologists finds that H1N1 actually killed as many as 203,000 people. The researchers looked at respiratory deaths in 20 countries and then used that data to calculate a global figure. A 2012 CDC study found similar results, the New York Times reports. And researchers think the true toll could be even higher, adds the Los Angeles Times.
"Deaths that occurred late in the winter of 2009-2010 and in later pandemic waves were missed in this analysis," they wrote. Plus, they say that if deaths beyond those of a respiratory nature—say, deaths that resulted from the worsening of cardiovascular disease because of the flu—were included, the toll might hit 400,000. The study, funded by WHO, could cause people to look at the organization's response differently: Initially, some thought WHO overreacted, considering the relatively low death toll. Another surprising new finding: As many as 85% of the people who died were under age 65. (Read more H1N1 virus stories.)