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What Does Flu Related Death Mean?


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When a person is infected with influenza it can cause an exacerbation of a prior exisiting condition. Because of that stressor there may then be an overwhelm of the immune system. The virus itself can cause so much damage that this may lead to a cascasding series of events ending in death not infrequently by multi-organ failure.

The fact that the person had the flu definitely contributed to their death whether it is written on the death certificate or not. The CDC would call this a flu related death. We have seen many of these deaths already, and there are likely to be many more in the coming year.

I just learned of a likely flu related death the other day. One of our techs just returned from the funeral of a good friend. Cause of death was said to be pneumonia. He mentioned that his friend was only 23 years old and very obese. It's August, and this is Florida. How many 23 years die of pneumonia in August? His prior existing condition was the obesity. We know that morbid obesity is a big risk factor for anyone infected with swine flu. He also developed multi-organ failure.

What are flu-related deaths?

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.

Does CDC know the exact number of people who die from flu each year?

CDC does not know exactly how many people die from flu each year. There are several reasons for this: First, states are not required to report individual flu cases or deaths of people older than 18 years of age to CDC. Second, influenza is infrequently listed on death certificates of people who die from flu-related complications [12]. Third, many flu-related deaths occur one or two weeks after a person's initial infection, either because the person may develop a secondary bacterial co-infection (such as a staph infection) [1,8,11] or because influenza can aggravate an existing chronic illness (such as congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) [3]. Also, most people who die from flu-related complications are not tested for flu, or they seek medical care later in their illness when influenza can no longer be detected from respiratory samples. Influenza tests are only likely to detect influenza if performed within a week after onset of illness. For these reasons, many flu-related deaths may not be recorded on death certificates. These are some of the reasons that CDC and other public health agencies in the United States and other countries use statistical models to estimate the annual number of flu-related deaths. (Flu deaths in children were made a nationally notifiable condition in 2004, and since then, states have been required to report flu-related child deaths in the United States through the Influenza Associated Pediatric Mortality Surveillance System).

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