I heard it on the radio during a “news update” on the pending swine flu pandemic. I read about it in a recent news story on the same topic.
36,000 is the number of annual U.S. deaths attributed to be caused by influenza.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard that number. Several months ago I was having a conversation with my mom and the topic of the flu – and the number of deaths from it per year – came up.
She asked me if I have ever known anyone who had died of the flu.
I admitted I hadn’t.
She asked me if I thought that was odd. She then told me that during the Vietnam War, just about everyone had some sort of personal acquaintance with a soldier who had died there. A relative, a friend, a friend’s son, a kid that went to your church, a classmate; regardless of what it was, just about everyone had some sort of connection with a soldier who had been killed in Vietnam.
That was a war that lasted 10 years and resulted in around 57,000 U.S. dead. With the flu, we’re talking about 36,000 deaths every single year. What are the odds that I wouldn’t have some sort of a connection with somebody who had died from the flu at some point during my lifetime?
She also pointed out that in over 20 years as an RN working in Intensive Care Units at hospitals in several different states, she could not recall a single death from influenza.
So when I started hearing this number “36,000” again recently, I decided to do a little digging.
The first place I went was to the CDC website (http://www.cdc.gov/), which is, according to their tagline, “Your Online Source for Credible Health Information.”
Sure enough, there it was: CDC estimated that about 36,000 people died of flu-related causes each year, on average, during the 1990s in the United States. (Source)
But there was also this little statement in the document as well: Flu-related deaths are deaths that occur in people for whom influenza infection was likely a contributor to the cause of death, but not necessarily the primary cause of death.
“Not necessarily the primary cause of death”? Isn’t that essentially the same thing as “not the cause of death”?
It also goes on to say that, Flu is a serious disease that causes illness and deaths nearly every year in the United States.
"Nearly every year"? What the heck does that mean?
Curious – and now a little suspicious as well – I dug a little deeper and found a document that listed the leading causes of death for 2005 and found the following information:
2005 Leading Causes of Death
· Heart disease: 652,091
· Cancer: 559,312
· Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 143,579
· Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 130,933
· Accidents (unintentional injuries): 117,809
· Diabetes: 75,119
· Alzheimer's disease: 71,599
· Influenza/Pneumonia: 63,001
· Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 43,901
· Septicemia: 34,136
· Suicide: 32,637
· Chronic Liver Disease & cirrhosis: 27,530
· Renal Diseases: 24,902
· Parkinsons Disease: 19,544
· Homicide: 18,124
· All others: 433,800
Okay, we’re grouping Influenza and Pneumonia together now. Not sure why, but okay. Still, it should be safe to assume that since we have already been told that Influenza accounts for 36,000 deaths, Pneumonia would account for the other 27,001, right? After all, these aren’t conflicting sources; it’s all from the CDC.
A little more digging, however, led me to the “Final Data for 2005”. It even has the CDC logo right on the top of the page. If you scroll down to Table 10 on page 33, you’ll see the breakdown of deaths from Influenza and Pneumonia:
Isn’t that interesting? What happened to 36,000?
Even more interesting is when you take a look at the demographic breakdown. If you do, you’ll find that of the 1,812 people who died from Influenza, 80% of them were 75 or older.
To be honest, I already knew that people died when they got old, but I didn’t realize until now that the CDC will provide estimates that are plus/minus 95% accurate, which I guess is the government equivalent to “pretty good shootin’”.
Maybe the CDC should change their tagline to “Your Online Source of Incredible Health Information”.
Did you know?: During the 1976 Swine Flu scare, only 1 person actually died from the flu, but 25 died from the vaccinations given to prevent it. (Source)