Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interesting data on pandemic flu mortality

Interesting summary (but caveat below) ...

A Century of Flu Pandemics - Health Blog - WSJ

... There was the Spanish Flu of 1918, which this historical overview from the feds calls “the catastrophe against which all modern pandemics are measured.” Some 30% of the world’s inhabitants fell ill; there were an estimated 500,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

The other major pandemics of the century were less severe. In the Asian Flu of 1957, some 70,000 people in the U.S. died. In the Hong Kong Flu outbreak of 1967, about 33,800 people died in this country.

Yes, those numbers are high. But consider this: In a typical year, some 36,000 Americans die of regular, garden-variety flu, and hundreds of thousands are hospitalized. Those are useful figures to keep in mind for a sense of context as the confirmed cases of swine flu continue to rise...

That's a reassuring number, but slightly misleading for several reasons.

  1. The US population in 1967 was 200 million, now we're at 300 million.
  2. We have immunizations and vastly better medical care than 1967, so our death rates should be much lower.
  3. Routine flu most often kills elderly frail people with a very limited lifespan. The big pandemics take the young.

It's worth remembering that influenza does kill a lot of people every year, but that shouldn't make us think that Hong Kong outbreak of 1967 was nothing special.

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