Misleading figures on US annual flu deaths

At a White  House briefing in late February Donald Trump reassured the nation that there was little chance of the virus causing significant disruption, and that the flu kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year. The coronavirus would be no worse than the flu, and who noticed flu deaths particularly? In April further comparisons with the flu persuaded people that, since the comparison with flu was apparently holding, the country should be reopened for business.

But it turns out to have been a massive misunderstanding.  The corona virus deaths are actual deaths of real people. The 25,000 to 69,000 numbers that Trump cited do not represent actual, counted flu deaths per year; they are estimates that the CDC produces by multiplying the number of flu death counts reported by various coefficients produced through complicated algorithms. These coefficients are based on assumptions of how many cases, hospitalizations, and deaths they believe went unreported. In the last six flu seasons, the CDCs reported number of actual confirmed flu deaths­ as between 3,448 to 15,620, far lower than the numbers commonly repeated by public officials and even public health experts.  Doctors simply don’t see the huge number of flu deaths claimed by CDC statistics.

There is, in short, little data to support the CDCs assumption that the number of people who die of flu each year is on average six times greater than the number of flu deaths that are actually confirmed. To make it worse, the CDC figures also include pneumonia deaths!  The objective is, no doubt, to encourage people to get flu shots, a reasonable thing to do, but the estimates should not be used in comparison to those of Covid 19 as a weapon to perilously open up the economy for political purposes, with the message that it is “just another flu”.

(Information from an article by Jeremy Samuel Faust in Scientific American, April 28, 2020.  Article edited for length by me)




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