WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- CDC reported a record 80,000 deaths from flu and its complications last winter – the disease’s highest death toll in decades.
- Experts and health officials stress the importance of vaccination as it lessens the severity of illnesses and saves lives.
- While last year’s flu vaccine wasn’t very effective, the altered flu vaccine for this year is shaping up to be a good match to the flu virus that’s been detected.
The total number deaths from flu and its complications last winter was revealed to be a record 80,000 — the disease’s highest death toll in at least four decades — in Tuesday night’s interview by the Associated Press with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Robert Redfield.
Flu experts had considered it a very bad season, but they were still surprised by the size of the estimate.
Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert, said the tally was nearly double of what health officials considered a bad year.
According to the CDC, the total number of flu-related deaths in recent years ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000.
The recent fall and winter seasons brought about one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory — it was the kind that put more people in the hospital and caused more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly. Fatal complications included pneumonia, stroke, and heart attack.
The flu season, which peaked in early February, was mostly over by the end of March.
What was worse was that the flu vaccine wasn’t very effective. Experts insist, nevertheless, that vaccination is still necessary as it lessens the severity of illnesses and saves lives.
Since flu is a common illness, not all flu cases are reported, and flu is not always listed on death certificates, so CDC officials do not have the exact counts of flu deaths each year. Periodically revised statistical models were used to provide the estimates.
According to CDC officials, the 80,000 figure is still preliminary and may still be revised, but it is not expected to decrease.
Last winter was not the worst flu season on record: the 1918 flu pandemic lasted nearly two years and is estimated to have killed more than 500,000 Americans.
Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a CDC flu expert, pointed out that flu seasons are not exactly comparable through history, especially because the nation’s population is changing. For instance, there are more Americans, and especially more elderly Americans, today than in decades past.
U.S. health officials have scheduled a media event in Washington on Thursday to stress the importance of vaccinations for protection against the upcoming flu season.
Jernigan stated that the flu virus that’s been detected is a milder strain, and the vaccine is shaping up to be a good match so far, especially after the makeup of the vaccine was altered this year to better protect against expected strains.
Source: Los Angeles Times