Pediatric and adult flu mortality 2015-16 – update 3

In the USA, we’re nearing the heart of the flu season, with pediatric flu deaths peaking during the next 6-8 weeks. Flu mortality during the 2015-16 season (which generally starts on October 1), the CDC has reported that there have been 11 pediatric flu deaths through 6 February 2016. This is a slight increase from the previous two reports.

Now, I know some of you may say “only 11,” but since pediatric flu is mostly prevented with a vaccine, we could prevent these 7 deaths. Moreover, it’s early. During the last 3 years, there were 171 pediatric flu deaths in 2012-13, 11 in 2013-14, and 148 in 2014-15 – most of the pediatric flu deaths happened after this week.

It seems that the the numbers are lower, so far, than in previous years. However, this flu season may be several weeks late, probably as a result of warmer weather (no, warm weather does not block the flu). Flu mortality across all ages crossed the threshold for an “epidemic” last week, so these numbers might increase. Let’s hope they don’t, but as opposed to what people believe, flu is dangerous.

In fact, according to CDC reports, the influenza-B strain is more prevalent this year than in the past, and the flu vaccine is more effective against B strains of flu. So, it’s possible (though still early) that the lighter flu season can be attributed to vaccines.

flu mortality 2015-16
CDC report of Pediatric flu deaths through 6 February 2016.

Flu mortality 2015-16

 

Most people, including children, will recover from influenza  within a few days to less than two weeks However, some individuals will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu – many of these complications can result in hospitalization, and, in the most serious cases, might result in death.

A case of the flu can make chronic health problems worse. People with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition which can be deadly.

The problem is worse for children. The flu can be dangerous even if there are no underlying chronic conditions. A healthy baby can be put at high risk if they contract the flu. Again, a flu that can be mostly prevented by a vaccine.

Most pediatric flu deaths are in unvaccinated children. Let me repeat that–children not vaccinated against the flu are at higher risk of death.

One of those pediatric flu deaths

 

During the third week of January 2016, a 12 year old Washington state girl died of kidney failure as a result of the flu. She was a relatively normal girl, who had asthma which was unrelated to her flu complications for those of you who want to blame that condition.

The young girl came down with a high fever, and her physician treated her with Tamiflu (which is not perfect in treating flu, especially after severe symptoms appear). But her condition got worse.

She died of complications of the H1N1 flu.

Yes, we know that the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective. Depending on the flu strains, it might be less effective. Actually the current vaccine is very effective, reducing intensive care admissions in children by over 71%. In other words, children vaccinated against the flu have a 71% lower risk of needing intensive care. I’m not sure if there any other ways to make that clear.

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss wrote an article about her personal decision process to vaccinate her children against the flu. Increasing the odds of having your children be healthy during the flu season by getting the vaccine is so clear to her, and to anyone who reads about these avoidable pediatric deaths.

It’s not my intent to say “pediatric flu deaths” as a scare tactic. But it should be a scare tactic. Why would anyone want to let their children be at risk for death from the flu?

Get the flu vaccine for your kids. And frankly for yourself, if you’re an adult, but let’s start with the kids.

Overall flu mortality 2015-16

 

Although I have focused on children, because they can be most at risk for flu deaths, the data is much more scary for the broad population.

Pneumonia and influenza (P&I) mortality, combined because it’s often difficult to separate pneumonia deaths from diagnosed influenza deaths, remains quite high. For the week ending January 23 January 2016, 1,861 of 27,158, 6.9%, of all U.S. deaths were classified as resulting from P&I.

Nearly 1900 people have died from flu this season, so that should be even more evidence for adults to get their flu vaccination.

 

Key citations

 

  • Russell K, Blanton L, Kniss K, Mustaquim D, Smith S, Cohen J, Garg S, Flannery B, Fry AM, Grohskopf LA, Bresee J, Wallis T, Sessions W, Garten R, Xu X, Elal AI, Gubareva L, Barnes J, Wentworth DE, Burns E, Katz J, Jernigan D, Brammer L. Update: Influenza Activity – United States, October 4, 2015-February 6, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016 Feb 19;65(6):146-53. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6506a3. PubMed PMID: 26891596.
The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!