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Calculating U.S. Influenza Deaths


By F. Edward Yazbak, MD, FAAP

For years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been telling anyone who would listen: “Every year in the United States, on average: 5 percent to 20 percent of the population gets the flu, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and about 36,000 people die from flu.” (1) It is not clear how the specific statistic — 36,000 American deaths a year “on average” — was formulated or from what sources it was derived. It seems to have just suddenly appeared, like a rabbit from a top hat. It certainly could have been any other number of thousands of cases. After all, what are a few thousand deaths up or down?

No one knows when the next number change will come but, when it does, it is guaranteed to be an increase. Scaring people, especially old people, out of their wits always sells vaccine and that seems to have become the CDC’s main purpose.

Another well-kept secret is over how many years the influenza deaths were “averaged.” Did the CDC calculate “average deaths” from 2000 to 2004 or from
1980 to 2004?

To have 36,000 deaths “on average,” there must be years with 26,000 deaths and about the same number of years with 46,000 deaths and, not to belabor the point, as many years with 16,000 deaths as with 56,000. At least, this is what most people would think averaging and “on average” mean.

The past influenza season came and went very quietly because the CDC was busy with dying birds in the Far East and Turkey. We will never find out where exactly the most recent “deaths from flu” will fit on the curve, but it is a good bet that 2005-2006 will not be, propaganda-wise, a “real good year.”

Testifying before the committee on government reform of the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 12, 2004, CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding, MD, carefully stated that “CDC scientists estimate that an average of 36,000 people die from influenza-related complications each year in the United States.” (2)

It is not clear why the director made the distinction, while under oath, between deaths from the flu and deaths from complications of the flu. A few people, including this writer, think there is a distinct difference between the two; many others do not think so.

To place the CDC influenza deaths in perspective, the U.S. lost 33,741 officers and enlisted men and women in Korean War battles from 1950 to 1953. (3) And a special communication published by the Journal of the American Medical Association listed 43,000 deaths due to motor vehicle crashes and 29,000 involving firearms in the U.S. in 2000. (4)

The National Vital Statistics Report for 2001, published on Sept. 18, 2003 [Vol. 52, No. 3], was the last official U.S. government report on influenza mortality before the CDC director’s appearance at the February 2004 Congressional hearing. Certified figures about Influenza mortality [J10-J11] were listed on page 31 of the report. (5)

There were, in all, 257 influenza deaths recorded in 2001.

Of those, 13 deaths were under the age of 5; 50 were between 5 and 54; 21 from 55 to 64; 21 between 65 and 74; 56 from 75 to 84; and 96 were 85 years old or older.

Also in 2001, there were 61,777 official deaths due to pneumonia (J12-J18) of which 48,686 (79 percent) were 75 years old or older.

The same document (table 11, page 35) lists the reciprocal number of deaths per 100.000 population. In 2001, influenza-pneumonia deaths (J10-J18) amounted to 21.8 per 100.000 with influenza at 0.1 and pneumonia at 21.7.

With the U.S. population being around 284 million in 2001, it would seem that the calculated number of 284 (0.1/100.000) deaths from influenza would be close enough to the actual listed number of 257.

The following should be kept in mind:

“Pneumonia” is caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. Elderly patients (75 years and over) who have laboratory confirmed influenza disease may develop pneumonia but die from other underlying serious conditions, such as heart or kidney failure to name just two. It is not known how many of the 48,686 elderly individuals who died in 2001 had received the influenza vaccine that year. People of that age are usually vaccinated early in the season and certainly more frequently than others. In the U.S., influenza/influenza-like illnesses only occur during the flu season, a period of three months on average and rarely four months. Pulmonary complications and
specifically deaths due to influenza will only occur during that short period, while
other causes of pneumonia deaths exist year-round.

Most people who have influenza-like illness, as the condition is fondly referred to by the CDC, do not have influenza; only a small percentage of them are ever confirmed by culture or other accurate laboratory means.

For the period 2000-2005, influenza virus positive cultures were 11 to 18.9 percent of the obtained cultures with a mean of 12.5 percent. It is well known that the virus strains in the community may be different from those in the available vaccine. Because immunity is strain-specific, vaccination in such cases is essentially ineffective in preventing disease. The percent of antigenic match between 2000 and 2005 varied from 11 to 63.2 percent with a mean of 54.2 percent. The maximum effectiveness of the vaccination effort, therefore, ranged between 2.1 percent in 2003-2004 and 11.5 percent in 2002-2003 with a mean of 7.2 percent. (6)

Taking all these facts into consideration, it is safe to say that only a small percentage of the 61,777 individuals who died of pneumonia in 2001 actually had influenza. Clearly, therefore, a large majority of individuals who died that year of pneumonia did not die of influenza or influenza-related complications.

In addition, the CDC figures clearly show that a large percentage of those who died were elderly and, historically, the elderly, as a group, have always been better vaccinated. As to the 257 individuals who were actually listed as influenza deaths in the 2001 statistical report, the influenza virus was actually identified in only 18 of them, the 18 classified as J10. (6)

Apparently in 2001, not even 257 people died of influenza or influenza-related complications.

The Monthly Vital Statistics Report of Sept. 17, 1981 sheds additional light on the issue. Under pneumonia and influenza, the report states: “An estimated 52,720 deaths in 1980 were attributed to pneumonia and influenza. The age-adjusted death rate for this cause increased about 14 percent from 11.1 per 100,000 population in 1979 to 12.6 in 1980, reflecting the influenza epidemics in 1980 and the absence of one in the previous year. For pneumonia and influenza, death rates increased for the age groups 35 years and over.” (7)

The above statement by none other than the CDC suggests that around 1.5 deaths per 100,000 were or could have been attributed to influenza or influenza complications in 1980, an epidemic year, when one would have expected a very large number of cases and more severe illness and certainly in a period when influenza vaccination was not as popular as it is now.

Considering that the U.S. population was around 226.5 million in 1980, 1.5
deaths per 100.000 would translate to around 4,000 deaths that year. So here
we have official CDC statistics listing around 4,000 deaths, unconfirmed by viral cultures, from influenza and influenza-related complications in 1980, a banner year, and maybe 18 or 257 in 2001 and the propaganda machine is still talking about “an average of 36,000 deaths” a year. How preposterous.


1. Key Facts about Influenza and the Influenza Vaccine, CDC.
Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm

2. J.L. Gerberding. Protecting the Public's Health: CDC Influenza Preparedness Efforts. Testimony before the Committee on Government Reform U.S. House of Representatives, Feb. 12, 2004.
Available at http://www.cdc.gov/washington/testimony/In2122004200.htm

3. America's Wars: U.S. Casualties and Veterans.
Available at http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004615.html

4. A.H. Mokdad et al. Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000. JAMA. 2004; 291: 1238-1245.
Available at http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/291/10/1238

5. E. Arias et al. Deaths: Final Data For 2001. National Vital Statistics Reports. Volume 52, Number 3. Sept. 18, 2003.
Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr52/nvsr52_03.pdf

6. D.M. Ayoub, F.E. Yazbak. Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy: A Critical Assessment of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. J. Am Phys Surg. 2006; 11(2): 41-47.
Available at http://www.jpands.org/vol11no2/ayoub.pdf

7. Annual Report of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Divorces: United States 1980. Monthly Vital Statistics Report: Vol. 29, No.13. Sept. 17, 1981.
Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/mvsr/supp/mv29_13.pdf