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For the first time in at least four decades, the death toll of Americans who caught the flu last winter hit 80,000 with most of them dying from its complications.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, in an interview with The Associated Press, revealed this.
Although American flu experts predicted last winter was going to be quite a bad season, a few of them still found the total number a tad surprising.
“It’s really huge. The tally was almost double the number of what health experts would usually describe as a bad year,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a vaccine expert in Vanderbilt University.
According to CDC estimates in recent years, a reported 12,000 to 56,000 flu-related deaths have been reported.
The flu last year was the type that tends to hospitalize those who are affected, and it’s been known to cause more deaths, especially among young children and older people. In fact, it’s been described as one of the most severe flu seasons in the recent memory in the US, although the season didn’t last for long, peaking in early February and petering out by the end of March.
And to make matters worse, the flu vaccine wasn’t as effective as it should have been. However, health professionals still maintain that vaccination should still be encouraged because it ensures illnesses remain less severe and more lives are saved.
“We lost 80,000 people last year to the flu. I hope we’re able to get more people vaccinated,” Redfield said to AP in New York.
There are no exact counts from the CDC of the mortality rate of the flu each year. It’s so common that most flu cases aren’t reported and cases of flu are rarely listed as causes of death on death certificates. So statistical models are employed by the CDC to make estimates.
It eclipses the estimates for every flu season going back to the winter of 1976-1977. Estimates for many earlier seasons were not readily available.
Last winter’s flu was not the worst ever flu recorded, however. In 1918, a flu pandemic lasting for two years killed over 500,000 Americans.
It’s not easy to compare flu seasons through history, partly because the nation’s population is changing. There are more Americans — and more elderly Americans — today than in decades past.
On Thursday, health officials in the US are scheduled to hold a media event in Washington, D.C., to reiterate how important vaccinations were towards protecting Americans against whatever flu strain is coming this winter.
So far, the flu detected this year is said to be a milder strain, explained Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a CDC flu expert.
The vaccine’s components have been changed this year to better protect humans against expected strains.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re seeing more encouraging signs than we were early last year,” Jernigan said.