August 26th, 2010
04:47 PM ET

Flu deaths 'a moving target,' CDC says

When it comes to estimating how many people will die annually from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control says averages just don't explain the full picture.

"Flu is really unpredictable," explains Dr. David Shay, a medical officer with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Flu deaths are a moving target."

Data published Thursday in the agency's weekly  morbidity and mortality report, looking at flu-related deaths between the start of the 1976 season through the end of the 2007 season, found the number of deaths varied widely depending on the strain in circulation. Years when H3N2 were the most prominent – those are strains known for unpredictable genetic changes – were 2.7 times more deadly.

For example, there were 5,856 flu-related deaths during the season ending in 2003, when both influenza B and H1N1 were more prominent stains. However, the following year, when H3N2 was frequent, 14,715 deaths were reported.

Previous estimates found an average of 36,000 people died annually from the flu, however the CDC now says that average came from reports looking at years when the more severe H3N2 strains were greater, and does not reflect the overall variability of each season.

"It's very difficult to summarize the flu with a simple average; there are very few average seasons," Shay says.

Other factors including the length of the season and the age of the people sickened also determine how deadly a season will be.  The report found 90 percent of influenza-associated deaths occur in adults ages 65 and older, an age group at high risk of developing complications from the illness.

The CDC says it is very difficult to predict which strain will be the most prominent to circulate and how long the season will run. Manufacturers began shipping the 2010-2011 vaccine at the end of July, which should provide protection against H1N1, H3N2 and influenza B. 155 million doses are expected to be available.

On August 10, the World Health Organization declared an end to the H1N1 pandemic, which caused worldwide panic last spring. [Read more here: H1N1 Pandemic was emotional as well as physical]. This doesn't mean that the H1N1 virus no longer exists, but rather that the virus has moved to an intensity similar to seasonal epidemics.

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Will

    I don't see where this is any surprise. Most adult know that there is no way to predict how many people will get an influenza or die from it. You talking about a virus that might or might not spread, mutate and increase in its ferocity. Look at what happened in 1918 – 50 million dead world-wide. Last year the H1N1 predictions were wrong.

    Ninety-two years later we have an annual flu shot and millions of people don't get it because they don't believe the annual hype by the CDC. Unfortunately one of these years the predictions will be correct and millions will die.

    August 26, 2010 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RB

      Influenza viruses mutate in many ways, mainly re: transmissability & virulence (significant morbidity & mortality). Mortality rates depend on many factors. Although last year's A-H1N1 pandemic resulted in fewer than average # of deaths, most of those deaths were in folks much younger than the average "season" (37 yrs old v. 76 yrs.old), hence Years of Potential Life Lost were greater. Take home point: vaccination is your best protection from getting influenza (& possibly dying), since we don't yet have a test to predict who will & won't die. & even tho' vaccines aren't perfect, the more people get vaccinated the better (herd immunity). Proper cough etiquette (in the sleeve, not the hand) & handwashing are good too, as are many other common sense methods of protection (ie, avoid coughers, regardless of the "cooties" they have). Stay healthy & happy.

      August 26, 2010 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
  2. MP

    I don't know why but that looks like a very creepy picture to me!

    August 26, 2010 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tony

      You are right. This picture is terrible. What does it represents anyway?

      August 26, 2010 at 20:29 | Report abuse |
    • Waterfalls

      They use stock photos for these articles, and maybe this one was really really inexpensive??? Still, wow, they could have done so much better. A photo of nature, since that is where viruses come from, or a winter scene!

      August 27, 2010 at 06:47 | Report abuse |
    • KG

      To me too. Maybe because of that red colored medicine in front?

      August 27, 2010 at 17:46 | Report abuse |
  3. realworld

    Never mind talking about the flu, which kills 36,000 a year in the US. I'm still getting over the panic of last year's swine flu crisis, which killed almost 18,000 worldwide.

    August 26, 2010 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leb

      You are aware that the swine flu is one of the strains they talked about in the article, right? That is figured in the article.

      August 26, 2010 at 19:00 | Report abuse |
    • realworld

      There are an average of 36,000 flu deaths in the country each year, whether or not there is a swine flu outbreak. In fact, an 8/27/19 MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, of CDC) report found that "during seasons when influenza A (H3N2) viruses were prominent death rates were more than double what they were during seasons when influenza A (H1N1) [swine flu] or influenza B viruses predominated." All that was missing from the hype last season was an article saying, "Swine flu may cause cancer."

      August 26, 2010 at 20:59 | Report abuse |
  4. Caligula

    I must be missing something. I have been lead to believe that there are 36.000 flu deaths in the US each year.
    This article seems to indicate less than 6,000 on average with 36.000 in the ODD bad year.
    The article does not seem to tell us what the total "flu" deaths for LAST year were in particular :
    US GOVT tried to terrify us into believing we would ALL DIE!!!!

    Does anyone else remember an article last August indicating that "all flu deaths for last year would be counted as H1N1 no matter which variety they actually were?
    I do-source the NY TIMES and the US Heath Service.

    So all this HYSTERIA! For what purpose?
    I don't know.
    Please let me know if you know.

    August 26, 2010 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim X

      To sell drugs and make money. Medicine, today, is a business like any other and more profitable than most. It is not, first about helping you. It is now first about making money. That takes priority in America. Profit is God. The more fear generated, the more customers for the drugs and the more money for the shareholders.

      August 26, 2010 at 20:19 | Report abuse |
  5. MsV

    The last flu shot i got I was Pregnant and that was 6 years ago.......... During that time they made a huge deal bout the bird flu and then the swine flu. How many ppl actually died from either of those strains? Compared to over 7billion ppl world wide. I would hardly call that an outbreak. Not only that but every and yes EVERY single person i met that got the vaccinations for those strains (mainly swine) ended up getting that strain afterwards. My Son's school had a swine flu scare, 10 ppl got sick that were reported only to find out it was just the stomach bug. (usually caused by bad food.) I personally think articles like this and many others are only using this as a fear tactic. They say "for the best interest of the ppl" but getting ppl worked up pver nothing isn't for the best interest of anybody. You tell someone something long enough they eventually start believing it and then offer them a "treatment" or "cure" only to find out later is was only a placebo and you actually had nothing wrong with you. And that includes more than just medicine; Religion is one, Food is another, Government....Everything falls under that.

    i.e. Religion: Tell ppl they are sinners long enough, most begin to believe it so, their placebo? Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, Shiva, etc etc.
    Food: Classic Example Southern food cooks everything in grease right? So you'll be fat. Placebo? Eat right food that cost double the amount of cash, yoyo diets and more.
    Government: You cant trust anyone right? Any and everyone is a pervert, a thief, pedobears, liar, terrorist etc etc. Placebo? "Peace keepers" aka cops, pigs, po po's ,military slaves, etc. Not just that but a false sense of security for most ppl.

    All this will all keep going on until ppl stop letting the governments, FDA, religious zealots and so many many more, think for them. Its all based on 1 thing, even something as simple as this article: Fear. And because of this FEAR ppl wrongly believe in neccesary evil.

    August 26, 2010 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. dont believe


    August 27, 2010 at 05:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Y

      Why do you think there are secret reasons? Isn't the pharmaceutical lobby a big enough reason? What makes you think they have special secret additional reasons?

      August 27, 2010 at 07:05 | Report abuse |
  7. Y

    Time and time again you hear people say they knew people who had the H1N1 vaccine last year but still developed awful H1N1 symptoms. They say the people they know who DIDN'T get the vaccine didn't get the flu or had mild symptoms.
    Also, many people say they get much sicker (more colds, flu symptoms) during years when they get the flu shot compared to years when they don't.

    So I want to know if the flu vaccines are safe. Could they affect the immune system in a way that makes you more likely to catch other viruses? If you're not in a high risk group, are you actually going to be healthier if you refuse the vaccine?

    Vaccines can have unknown consequences. For example, one of the HIV vaccine trials in recent years was halted because they used adenovirus (a cold virus) as a "carrier" for the vaccine proteins. This caused those who received the vaccine to have an immune response, leading to more T-cells coursing through the bloodstream. When the patients were then exposed to HIV (these were people in very high risk countries), the virus could more easily find its target (immune cells) due to the greater number of them in the bloodstream, and the patients were actually MORE likely to become infected with HIV due to having taken this vaccine.

    It was an unpredicted problem, but my question is, could there be a similar mechanism that happens with flu shots? You develop antibodies to these 3 flu strains but your immune system overall is actually less effective for awhile?

    It sure seems like there could be something that happens after taking flu vaccines that we are not yet "aware" of, since so many people say they get sicker for months following the flu vaccine compared to years they don't.

    Speaking only for myself, I only get the vaccine some years and have never had the flu. I don't think I will ever take it again unless pregnant and my doctor insists.

    Those who are at high risk should probably get it, but I just wonder.... wonder about all of the stories people tell.

    August 27, 2010 at 07:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lou

      The only way to know if a vaccine is safe is to have it tested by an independent third party approved for vaccine testing. The normal FDA vaccine approval process takes ten years because it is so IMPORTANT to be sure with something you inject directly into your blood stream.This was NOT done last year and is NOT being done this year.

      Trust us we THINK it is safe. Safe for whom? Safe for the vaccine manufactures who will make billions and have NO RISK even if their vaccine kills tens of thousands of trusting, ignorant souls. Folks it is time to wake up. Big government and big pharma are in bed with the Rockefellers; the first two want power and money but David Rockefeller wants something else entirely. Understand he is up to his corrupt eyeballs in the eugenic movement. What does he want? Your air.

      September 17, 2010 at 23:41 | Report abuse |
  8. Geeshgirl

    This photo is the latest example of scare tactics used by the government. Beware! Beware!!! :::shudders:::

    August 27, 2010 at 09:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Waterfalls

      They changed the photo. Instead of a scary man, now it's a sleeping guy!

      August 27, 2010 at 13:39 | Report abuse |
  9. William Schaffner

    Flu deaths are a moving target because flu virus is a moving target.
    Predictions, even those based on perfect science and in depth
    can be hard. But there are some things we know. Influenza will keep
    back. Some people will get sick and will miss work. Some will infect
    families, friends or coworkers. We know that some people will end up in
    hospital with complications they would never have had otherwise. And we
    some will die. Rather than guess about what we're not totally sure of,
    let's act upon what we know beyond a doubt. Flu will come and it will
    and our best protection is prevention by getting vaccinated. William
    Schaffner, MD. President, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

    August 30, 2010 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lou

      As an alternative to the worthless “vaccination” being pushed on us for the bio-engineered viruses please consider two vitamins to reinforce your immune system.

      Vitamin D: I take 10,000 IU of vitamin D3/day. Vitamin D is required to keep the virus from entering your deep lung tissue. With a good level of vitamin D in your blood your body produces the antimicrobial peptides which allow the interception and destruction of the viruses, ANY virus, in your upper respiratory tract BEFORE they can enter your deep lungs.

      A test of viral bio-weapons appears to have occurred in the Ukraine last flu season and hemorrhagic lung was the chief cause of death. I suspect hemorrhagic lung may be the chief threat during our Political Pandemic.

      Vitamin C: Vitamin C also aids your immune system in destroying virus invaders. Vitamin C is required to produce collagen. When you suffer massive tissue destruction such as during a serious viral infection, your vitamin C needs may exceed one gram/hour. In any case one gram/hour is a good place to start IMO.

      16 Sept 2010

      Did 1918 Spanish Flu Deaths Result From Aspirin-Induced Vitamin C Deficiency?

      “In a more recent experiment, mice were genetically altered so they did not synthesize vitamin C in their liver as most other animals do (guinea pigs, primates, and humans are an exception as they don’t naturally produce vitamin C within the liver and must completely rely upon the diet for vitamin C). These vitamin C-deficient mice were inoculated with influenza virus and experienced massive damage to their lungs compared to vitamin C-adequate mice. Researchers concluded that supplemental “vitamin C is required for an adequate immune response and in limiting lung pathology after influenza virus infection.” Journal Nutrition. 2006 Oct; 136(10):2611–6

      “If overuse of aspirin during the 1918 Spanish flu was the primary cause of flu-related death as Dr. Karen Starko contends, then modern medicine has missed a large lesson on how to prevent flu-related death – that it was aspirin-induced scurvy that heightened mortality during this worldwide flu pandemic, maybe not the flu itself. If this hypothesis is true, then preventable mortality continues today. Many hundreds of thousands have needlessly succumbed to a vitamin C deficiency induced by self-treatment with aspirin and/or modern medicine’s continued failing to practice nutritional medicine.” Bill Sardi

      “In fact, as revealed in this article, the lack of vitamin C may be attributed to most of the flu deaths over the past century.” Bill Sardi

      Please read this insightful article. There is a very good chance the whole 1918 slaughter was a Rockefeller and Rothschilds induced event. Just as it is this time.

      It is clear to me that at a minimum vitamin C deficiency plays a LARGE role in virus death by hemorrhagic lung, IMO the chief threat from our Political Pandemic so far. Taking one gram of ascorbate/hour as advised in the virus fighting protocol, will stand you in good stead should you come down with a serious case of the flu. Of course large amounts of vitamin D should keep you from ever getting into a hemorrhagic lung situation.

      Should you or a loved one come down with hemorrhagic lung an IV vitamin C drip may be the only thing that can save you. Most hospitals will refuse to perform this IV vitamin C drip. When forced to do it a “lost” patient has often been saved.


      September 17, 2010 at 23:45 | Report abuse |
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