With the current outbreak of influenza peaking - and the news reports of the deaths associated with the flu - a lot of people are wondering:  why are people dying from the flu?  After all, isn't the flu similar to the common cold?

The answer to this question is complicated.  And first off - we should note that the flu isn't similar to the common cold.  Although they're both viral-based, the flu is a respiratory illness that is caused by the influenza virus;  The common cold on the other hand is caused by a variety of viruses.

But back to the question:  what causes people to dye from influenza?

The answer to that question isn't easy.  In fact, the number of fatalities caused by the flu is a guess.

CDC does not know exactly how many people die from seasonal flu each year. There are several reasons for this. First, states are not required to report individual seasonal flu cases or deaths of people older than 18 years of age to CDC. Second, seasonal influenza is infrequently listed on death certificates of people who die from flu-related complications. Third, many seasonal 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 bacterial pneumonia) or because seasonal influenza can aggravate an existing chronic illness (such as congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Also, most people who die from seasonal flu-related complications are not tested for flu, or they seek medical care later in their illness when seasonal influenza can no longer be detected from respiratory samples.

So then, why does the medical world - specifically the Center for Disease Control (CDC)  - estimate those fatalities?

CDC feels it is important to convey the full burden of seasonal flu to the public. Seasonal flu is a serious disease that causes illness, hospitalizations, and deaths every year in the United States. CDC estimates of annual influenza-associated deaths in the United States are made using well-established scientific methods that have been reviewed by scientists outside of CDC.

So what could lead to a death from influenza?  Most commonly, it's underlying reasons.

Seasonal influenza may lead to death from other causes, such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It has been recognized for many years that influenza is infrequently listed on death certificates and testing for seasonal influenza infections is usually not done, particularly among the elderly who are at greatest risk of seasonal influenza complications and death. Some deaths — particularly in the elderly — are associated with secondary complications of seasonal influenza

To learn more, check out the CDC's website by clicking here.




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