Death Rate from Influenza Virus Increased ‘Markedly’ in 1990s, CDC Study Finds
The death rate from influenza increased "markedly" during the 1990s because a greater proportion of the population is elderly and thus "particularly susceptible" to the virus, the New York Times reports. According to a CDC study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average number of flu deaths per year in the 1990s was 36,000, compared with 20,000 a year in preceding decades. The report found that people ages 65 and over accounted for 90% of flu deaths. The flu is "especially deadly" in people over 85, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, lead author of the study, said, adding that people over 85 could be up to 32 times more likely to die from the flu than people ages 65 to 69 (Kolata, New York Times, 1/8). The number of Americans 85 and older doubled between 1976 and 1999, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Borenstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/8). Fukuda said the findings "highlight the need for broader flu vaccinations, especially in the elderly and people with chronic illnesses," the Wall Street Journal reports. "These data indicated that the magnitude of the problem is larger than we once thought," CDC Director Julie Gerberding said (Carrns, Wall Street Journal, 1/8).
Without more vaccinations, the public health system faces a "confrontation between an unstoppable force and an immovable object, the aging of the baby boom generation and the predictability of annual influenza," David Morens of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases writes in an accompanying JAMA editorial, USA Today reports (Manning, USA Today, 1/8). Morens added that the "best hope" is for improved flu and respiratory illness vaccines, but for the time being, doctors "must do a better job" of convincing people to be vaccinated, the Times reports. Currently, between 65% and 67% of people over 65 get vaccinated. Many people mistakenly believe the vaccine can give them the flu (New York Times, 1/8). NBC's "Nightly News" yesterday reported on the CDC study. A transcript and video of the segment in Windows Media format are available online (Bazell, "Nightly News," NBC, 1/7). NPR's "Morning Edition" today also reported on the study (Silberner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 1/8). The full segment will be available in RealPlayer online after noon ET. The study is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.