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Tens of thousands of Americans have died from the flu during the last five flu seasons, despite US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research findings that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by 40-60 percent and saves thousands of lives each flu season. A variety of factors contributed to the estimated 30.9 million illnesses, 14.5 million medical visits, 600,000 hospitalizations in the US related to flu during the 2016-2017 flu season.

  • According to the CDC, the two primary factors affecting the effectiveness of vaccines are the recipient’s age and health and the similarity between expected and actual flu viruses spreading in a community.
  • In addition, there is a general lack of awareness of the symptoms of influenza, which can be confused with the common cold, and money to pay for vaccines. 

In today's Viz of the Day, we highlight statistics from the CDC, which are featured prominently in US national media coverage of influenza. Estimating deaths related to flu is complex because in most cases the influenza virus is the secondary cause of infections or deteriorating health that leads to death and not the primary cause of death. CDC estimates influenza deaths based on reports on pneumonia and influenza (P&I) deaths and respiratory and circulatory (R&C) deaths using a statistical model. 

  • We also include information from the CDC’s Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER), which reports cause-specific mortality data based on the primary cause of death listed on death certificates. 
  • While death rates reported by WONDER are lower than CDC-models, by either approach, the results conclusively support information campaigns targeting the US population over the age of 50 regarding the benefits of vaccinations. Data clearly indicates that this group is most vulnerable to influenza and influenza-related deaths.

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