Are Flu Deaths Exaggerated?

A lot of people die with the flu each year.

How many? Exactly? That’s hard to know for sure.

We know how many kids die with the flu, because pediatric flu deaths are a nationally reportable condition.

At least we think we know. There were 185 reported pediatric flu deaths during the 2017-18 flu season.

“However, influenza-associated pediatric deaths are likely under-reported as not all children whose death was related to an influenza virus infection may have been tested for influenza. Therefore, we used a mathematical model to estimate the total number of pediatric deaths based on hospitalization rates and the frequency of death in and out of the hospital from death certificates, estimating that there were more than 600 deaths associated with influenza in children.”

Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States — 2017–2018 influenza season

The true number of pediatric flu deaths was probably far higher than the number that has been reported.

Estimating Flu Deaths

Whether or not flu deaths are a nationally reportable condition, how do we know how many people actually die with the flu each year?

“CDC does not know exactly how many people die from seasonal flu each year.”

Estimating Seasonal Influenza-Associated Deaths in the United States

Instead of counting each and every death, statistical models are used by the CDC and other public health agencies to estimate the number of seasonal flu-related deaths each year.

“For these and other reasons, statistical modeling strategies have been used to estimate seasonal flu-related deaths for many decades. Only counting deaths where influenza was included on a death certificate would be a gross underestimation of seasonal influenza’s true impact.”

Frequently Asked Questions about Estimated Flu Burden

And these statistical models that have been improved and updated over the years. That’s why instead of the general “36,000 flu deaths a year” that we used to see, we get more specific estimates of flu deaths each and every year.

CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9.3 million – 49.0 million illnesses, between 140,000 – 960,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 – 79,000 deaths annually since 2010.”

Disease Burden of Influenza

Why such a big range in the estimates?

Some flu seasons are worse than others.

The 2017-18 flu season, for example, was especially bad, “with an estimated 48.8 million people getting sick with influenza, 22.7 million people going to a health care provider, 959,000 hospitalizations, and 79,400 deaths from influenza.”

Were there definitely 79,400 deaths?

No, again, that’s an estimate. There were likely somewhere between 69,000 (low range of the estimate) and 99,000 (high range of the estimate) flu deaths.

It’s hardly a guess though, as anti-vaccine folks seem to imply.

The estimates come from analyzing data from the Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network (FluSurv-NET), which is made up of 267 acute care hospitals and laboratories in 13 states and has comprises over 27 million people.

Are Flu Deaths Exaggerated?

Not surprisingly, anti-vaccine folks don’t like to hear about deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases. They would much rather exaggerate the risks of vaccine injuries!

Minimizing the risks of vaccine-preventable disease comes straight from the anti-vaccine propaganda playbook.
Minimizing the risks of vaccine-preventable disease comes straight from the anti-vaccine propaganda playbook.

And guess what? None of the folks challenging the CDC’s “influenza math” seem to be epidemiologists or statisticians. They are just folks who want to scare you away from getting a flu shot.

“It takes little subtlety to recognize that the principal reason for flu hyperbole is to sell more vaccines. However, more and more people—even infectious disease specialists—are realizing that flu shots are fraught with problems. Roughly four-fifths of the vaccine injury and death cases settled through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program are flu-vaccine-related.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr on The CDC’s Influenza Math Doesn’t Add Up: Exaggerating the Death Toll to Sell Flu Shots

Speaking of flu hyperbole, Kennedy doesn’t mention that there have only been about 2,500 flu-vaccine related compensated cases through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program since 2006, even though at least 1,372,400,000 doses (yes, that billions!) of flu vaccine have been distributed since that time!

And although Kennedy calls those all “vaccine injury and death cases,” folks should be aware that since 1988, the number of “death cases” is far fewer than 2,500. In fact, there have been 157 filed death cases in the NVICP for the flu vaccine among billions of doses of flu vaccine given. Even then, we don’t actually know how many of those 157 cases were compensated, settled, or dismissed. It’s still a relatively small number though.

Vaccines are safe. The flu, like other vaccine-preventable diseases, is deadly. If you don’t believe the estimates, go visit an ICU during flu season and verify just how deadly the flu can be.

Get a flu vaccine each year and get protected against the flu.

More on Flu Deaths

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