The facts on flu

As of 29 April, the WHO ‘swine influenza’ update site shows a total of seven deaths from the Mexican outbreak, all in Mexico. It’s technically a ‘pandemic’ because confirmed cases (no deaths) have now been reported in six countries other than Mexico. All except the USA (46) are in the single-digits.

On average flu kills 41,000 people in the USA every year… and in Australia? According to Australia’s Health 2008, there were 3034 deaths from ‘pneumonia and influenza’ in 2005—about 2.3% of all deaths—making the two respiratory diseases the tenth leading cause of death for women and the twelfth for men. The mortality rates seem to be similar in recent years although there was a strong up-turn in influenza cases notified by Australian doctors in 2007 (more than 10,000 cases for the first time).

Unfortunately the mortality data publicly available does not distinguish between pneumonia and influenza: two diseases with very different etiology. Pneumonia—the ‘old man’s friend’—preys endemically on the weakened immune systems of the sick and elderly. It can be caused by infections from bacteria or parasites as well as by viruses and is frequently the most serious complication of influenza.

According to Australia’s Health Avian influenza (bird flu) currently remains rare worldwide. In 2007, there were 77 human cases worldwide, two-thirds of whom died. This takes the total number of sufferers between the end of 2003 to the end of 2007 to 340, of whom 61% died. There have been no human cases in Australia.

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