- WEB ARCHIVE - Feb 3, 2014 -
The CDC's decision to play up flu deaths dates back a decade, when it realized the public wasn't following its advice on the flu vaccine. During the 2003 flu season "the manufacturers were telling us that they weren't receiving a lot of orders for vaccine,"Dr. Glen Nowak, associate director for communications at CDC's National Immunization Program, told National Public Radio.
Flu results in "about 250,000 to 500,000 yearly deaths" worldwide, Wikipedia tells us. "The typical estimate is 36,000 [deaths] a year in the United States," reports NBC, citing the Centers for Disease Control. "Somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 Canadians a year die of influenza and its related complications, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada," the Globe and Mail says, adding that "Those numbers are controversial because they are estimates."
"Controversial" is an understatement, and not just in Canada, and not just because the numbers are estimates. The numbers differ wildly from the sober tallies recorded on death certificates -- by law every certificate must show a cause -- and reported by the official agencies that collect and keep vital statistics.
According to the National Vital Statistics System in the U.S., for example, annual flu deaths in 2010 amounted to just 500 per year -- fewer than deaths from ulcers (2,977), hernias (1,832) and pregnancy and childbirth (825), and a far cry from the big killers such as heart disease (597,689) and cancers (574,743). The story is similar in Canada, where unlikely killers likewise dwarf Statistics Canada's count of flu deaths.
Even that 500 figure for the U.S. could be too high, according to analyses in authoritative journals such as the American Journal of Public Health and the British Medical Journal. Only about 15-20 per cent of people who come down with flu-like symptoms have the influenza virus -- the other 80-85 per cent actually caught rhinovirus or other germs that are indistinguishable from the true flu without laboratory tests, which are rarely done. In 2001, a year in which death certificates listed 257 Americans as having died of flu, only 18 were positively identified as true flus. The other 239 were simply assumed to be flus and most likely had few true flus among them.
"U.S. data on influenza deaths are a mess," states a 2005 article in the British Medical Journal entitled "Are U.S. flu death figures more PR than science?" This article takes issue with the 36,000 flu-death figure commonly claimed, and with describing "influenza/pneumonia" as the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
"But why are flu and pneumonia bundled together?" the article asks. "Is the relationship so strong or unique to warrant characterizing them as a single cause of death?"