Numbers Games

In August: U.S. report predicts 30,000 to 90,000 H1N1 deaths

The global flu pandemic expected to return to the USA this fall may infect as much as half the U.S. population, flooding hospitals with nearly 2 million patients and causing 30,000 to 90,000 deaths, according to the first official forecast of the scope of the flu season now getting underway.

The report, released Monday by the White House, was prepared by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. It offers the forecast as the most plausible of a range of scenarios that reflect the potential impact of a new form of H1N1 flu, known as swine flu, which the report calls “a serious health threat to the United States.”

From a cursory search online it appears that there have been about 3,000 confirmed H1N1 deaths in the US so far, with a CDC estimate of under 10,000 total. I remain fuzzy on estimate number.

Speaking of estimating, the CDC estimates that an average of 36,000 people die of flu or flu-related illnesses each season. I’ve seen this number a lot over the years. It appears to be based on estimates of averaged estimates of estimates and I’m not sure it means anything. Normal flu numbers aren’t based on confirmed causes at all, as far as I can tell.

Another thing: I’ve never been clear on how H1N1 numbers were expected to affect normal flu numbers, particularly how many H1N1 deaths would “be expected” to have been standard flu deaths without an H1N1 outbreak. Presumably, at least a fair share of those succumbing to H1N1 flu would have caught normal flu instead and died anyway.

I continue to be more than a little skeptical of any of these numbers and of flu shots in general. It would be interesting to know what sort of influences were on the influenza calculations. If I was the type to accuse “big pharma” of scare tactics to drum up sales, I might be inclined to wonder things. Or, gasp, those pushing a need for a major change in the way health care is run in this country.

Regardless, the end of this latest flu scare appears to be in sight with numbers far, far lower than predicted. Though we won’t have “final” numbers for a year or more, it seems the sky isn’t falling, after all. Even when comparing the CDC’s estimates of normal flu deaths the the CDCs estimates of H1N1 deaths.


  1. This is just anecdotal but I had a regular flu shot about 18 months ago and have not had a single cold or anything like that since. The years before that I got sick quite a few times. How much of it is natural immunity from the previous year and how much of it is the flu shot I don’t know.

    1. Part of my “problem” is that I rarely get sick. I’ve had the flu (not bad) a few times over the years, and I usually have one moderate cold per winter, but that’s about it. And I haven’t even had the sniffles this year so far.

      I hope my overconfidence doesn’t come back to get me.

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