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    Sunday, October 17, 2004

    Gravity: Michelle Malkin is wondering if she was wrong to believe the CDC estimates that 36,000 people die every year of influenza. Her readers make some valid points. I've always taken it for granted that the numbers were accurate, though I was aware that the CDC lumped all "influenza-related" deaths together. So, if an elderly person catches the flu and then gets pneumonia as a complication and dies, the death is counted as an influenza-related death. This is different than the flu epidemic of 1918 when people really did die just of having influenza. It struck fast and they died fast.

    Although 36,000 people may not die of actual influenza, not having the elderly and high risk vaccinated does make a difference in hospitalizations and deaths from things like pneumonia and emphysema. A few years ago, when the flu vaccine was plentiful, there was a movement to vaccinate everyone early - too early. People were getting the vaccine in September and October, even though it would wear off by January and February when the flu season usually peaked out here in the Midwest. I remember well that year because I had a lot more people in the hospital with respiratory complications. The next year, there was a delay in getting the influenza vaccine out, and people got their shots at the appropriate time - late October to November. And my winter workload was a much easier one. Coincidence? Maybe. But there's no doubt the flu vaccine cuts down on complication rates for the elderly and those with lung diseases.

    Having said that, I have to agree that the widely quoted "36,000 dead each year" is an alarming number, and it's probably the reason that so many people, even healthy people, are over-reacting to the flu vaccine shortage. And yes, it's true that you can still get the flu even if you've had the vaccine. It only confers immunity for a few months, the immunity it does confer takes a week or two to take effect, and there's more than one variety of influenza. (The vaccine only protects against a chosen strain.) It's an imperfect vaccine, but it does make a difference for the elderly and emphysematous.

    posted by Sydney on 10/17/2004 09:45:00 PM 0 comments


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