Worldwide Estimate of Flu Deaths Raised

"These findings remind us of the seriousness of flu and that flu prevention should really be a global priority," said Dr. Joe Bresee, M.D., associate director for global health in CDC's Influenza Division and a study co-author.

CDC reported that new estimates published Dec. 13 indicate between 291,000 and 646,000 people worldwide die from seasonal flu-related respiratory illnesses each year, higher than a previous estimate of 250,000 to 500,000. The new estimates are based on a robust, multinational survey by CDC and global health partners and was published in The Lancet. The estimate excludes deaths during pandemics.

"These findings remind us of the seriousness of flu and that flu prevention should really be a global priority," said Dr. Joe Bresee, M.D., associate director for global health in CDC's Influenza Division and a study co-author.

The new estimates use more recent data taken from a larger and more diverse group of countries than previous estimates. Forty-seven countries contributed to this new effort; researchers calculated region-specific estimates and age-specific mortality estimates for people younger than 65 years, people 65-74 years, and people 75 years and older. The greatest flu mortality burden was seen in the world's poorest regions and among older adults, with people 75 and older and people living in sub-Saharan African countries experienced the highest rates of flu-associated respiratory deaths. Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asian countries had slightly lower but still high rates of flu-associated respiratory deaths.

"This work adds to a growing global understanding of the burden of influenza and populations at highest risk," said CDC researcher Danielle Iuliano, lead author of the study. "It builds the evidence base for influenza vaccination programs in other countries."

The authors noted the new estimates are limited to flu-associated respiratory deaths and therefore may underestimate the true global impact of seasonal influenza. Influenza infection can create or exacerbate other health factors which are then listed as the cause of death on death certificates, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or related complications. Additional research to estimate non-respiratory causes of flu-associated deaths is under way.

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