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At Least 80,000 People Die From Influenza Every Winter in the United States
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At Least 80,000 People Die From Influenza Every Winter in the United States

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NEW YORK — September 28, 2018

For most people, the flu is nothing more than a few days spent with a runny nose, heavy sneezing, some body aches, chills, and fatigue. After a few days everything calms down and you feel better. But you may not know that the flu can actually turn into a life-threatening condition.

So, at least one in four people in America died of flu and its complications last winter. In general, this number is 80,000.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this figure is the highest in at least four decades.

“That’s huge,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert. The tally was nearly twice as much as what health officials previously considered a bad year, he said.

Flu experts explain that last season was the most difficult because most people cannot fully assess the stage of the disease, or not treated until the end. It was driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly.

In recent years, flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000, according to a recent CDC report.

According to other data from the world health organization, influenza causes three to five million cases of serious illness and 291,000 to 646,000 deaths worldwide. The totals vary greatly from one year to the next.

The season peaked in early February and it was mostly over by the end of March.

Making a bad year worse, the flu vaccine didn’t work very well. It is known annually that the disease virus mutates and it becomes more difficult for specialists to predict the future spread of the disease. Despite this experts nevertheless saying that vaccination is still worth it because it makes illnesses less severe and saves lives.

"I'd like to see more people get vaccinated," Redfield told the AP at an event in New York. "We lost 80,000 people last year to the flu."

CDC officials do not have exact counts of how many people die from the flu each year. Flu is so common that not all flu cases are reported, and the flu is not always listed on death certificates. So the CDC uses statistical models, which are periodically revised, to make estimates.

However, the estimated number of deaths from influenza is between 40,000 and 60,000. In this connection, it is safe to say that last year was the most difficult in the number of cases.

Fatal complications from the flu can include pneumonia, stroke and heart attack.

CDC officials called the 80,000 figure preliminary, and it may be slightly revised. But they said it is not expected to go down.

It eclipses the estimates for every flu season going back to the winter of 1976-1977. Between 1972 and 1981, reports have shown, an average of 20,000 people died in each epidemic year, from complications associated with the flu, and sometimes this figure exceeded 50,000.

And last winter was not the worst flu season on record. The 1918 flu pandemic, which lasted nearly two years, killed more than 500,000 Americans, historians estimate.

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, noted Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a CDC flu expert.

U.S. health officials on Thursday are scheduled to hold a media event in Washington, D.C., to stress the importance of vaccinations to protect against whatever flu circulates this coming winter.

And how bad is it going to be? So far, "the flu that’s been detected is a milder strain, and early signs are that the vaccine is shaping up to be a good match," Jernigan said.

The makeup of the vaccine has been changed this year to try to better protect 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.

How the flu kills people

In a typical season, it is more often time from December to March, most deaths from influenza occur among children and the elderly, that is, it is the highest category of risk, both categories being uniquely vulnerable.

The immune system is an adaptive network of organs that learns how to best recognize and respond to threats over time. Because children's immune systems are relatively weak, it may not respond optimally. On the contrary, the immune system of older people is often weakened due to age and underlying disease. In addition to children between 6 and 59 months of age and those over 65 years of age, the most at risk of potentially fatal complications are pregnant women, health workers and people with certain chronic diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, and asthma.

After infection, the influenza virus begins to capture human cells in the nose and throat to make copies of itself. The virus causes a strong immune response that sends battalions of white blood cells, antibodies, and inflammatory molecules to eliminate the threat. T-cells attack and destroy the tissue that covers the virus. In most healthy adults, this process works and they recover within a few days or weeks. But sometimes the immune system's response is too strong, destroying so much tissue in the lungs that they can no longer deliver enough oxygen to the blood, leading to hypoxia and death.

In other cases, it is not the influenza virus itself that causes an overwhelming and potentially fatal immune response, but rather a secondary infection that suppresses an already weakened immune system. As a rule, bacteria are the common types of Streptococcus or Staphylococcus infection in the lungs.

Specialists say this infection can potentially spread to other parts of the body and blood, even leading to septic shock: a life-threatening, aggressive inflammatory response that damages multiple organs.

Based on autopsy studies, the researchers believe that about a third of people dying from influenza-related causes end up this way because the virus overflows the immune system; another third dies from an immune response to secondary bacterial infections, usually in the lungs; and the remaining third dies from failure of one or more other organs.

In addition to bacterial pneumonia, the secondary flu complications are quite numerous and range from relatively mild, such as sinus and ear infections, to much more serious, such as heart inflammation (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis), or muscle (myositis and rhabdomyolysis).

The number of people who die from an immune response to an initial viral infection compared to a secondary bacterial infection depends in part on stress and the cleanliness of the rooms in which the patients are kept. Some studies show that during the infamous global flu epidemic of 1918, most people died from subsequent bacterial infections. But more virulent strains, such as those that cause avian influenza, are more likely to suppress the immune system on their own. The hypothesis is that virulent strains cause a stronger inflammatory response. It also depends on the age group. During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the age group mainly included young adults, and we saw a lot of primary viral pneumonia.

Because of this, vaccination is still the most effective way to prevent influenza and its many potentially lethal complications. Scientists annually study the development of viruses and are looking for ways to treat it. The world does not stand still, and though today you may make a mistake with a vaccine, one thing is clear: it will help prevent your death.

Author: USA Really