While COVID-19 statistics dominate the headlines, public health officials are urging people not to ignore the coming flu season and to consider getting a seasonal flu vaccination shot.
Although the COVID-19 virus is considered by many to be about like getting a bad cold or the flu, in fact they are very different viruses. One serious difference being the high rate of transmissibility of the COVID-19 virus for various reasons, including the pre-symptomatic period of contagion and the completely asymptomatic spread of the disease.
The flu is a complicated disease caused by a family of influenza viruses. Each year, different variations of influenza circulate and become widespread globally. Flu experts at more than 100 influenza centers around the world keep track of these different variations, or strains, and go through an intensive research process to identify which strains may be the most common in a given season. This research process leads to the creation of the season’s vaccine, which is intended to protect against common flu strains that winter. But the seasonality of the flu leads to variation in both flu severity and vaccine effectiveness from year to year.
According to statistics from the CDC Pneumonia and Influenza Mortality Surveillance, 2013-2021 [as reported in an article in Healthline by author Betsy Ladyzhets], the flu has caused between 140,000 and 810,000 estimated hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 61,000 estimated deaths each year since 2010. In 2020, experts are particularly concerned that the seasonal flu may become a burden for hospitals, which are already caring for an influx of COVID-19 patients. The flu and COVID-19 also have similar symptoms and can require similar equipment from hospitals and health labs, which makes a double epidemic even more concerning.
According to the CDC report, the total flu and pneumonia deaths in Montana, 2013-2020, was 4,170 (400 per 100,000 population). The breakdown is 296 (28 per 100K) deaths due to Flu; and 3,874 (372 per 100K) of Pneumonia caused deaths. During 2013-2020 flu seasons, flu and pneumonia combined caused 6% of all deaths
The worst flu season, 2014-2015, resulted in 657 deaths (63 per 100K) or 6.6% of all deaths in the season.
So far this year in Montana, there have already been 672 deaths directly related to COVID-19 and experts are all cautioning that the worst is yet to come.
During the 2014–2015 flu season in Montana—the state’s deadliest season since 2013—four counties in the state reported less than five cases of influenza. The highest number reported in one county was 736 cases.
So far this year, the number of cases of COVID-19 reported has topped 10,981 in Yellowstone County, 7,307 in Gallatin County, 6,746 in Flathead County, 4,954 in Cascade County, and 4,704 in Missoula County. Ravalli County has recorded 1,536 cases to date and 13 deaths.
Another way of assessing the impacts is to look at the total death rates despite the cause. According to a report in the New York Times on Monday, deaths in every state of the country are higher than they would be in a normal year, according to an analysis of estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data show how the coronavirus pandemic, which is peaking in many states, is bringing with it unusual patterns of death, higher than the official totals of deaths that have been directly linked to the virus.
Deaths nationwide were 18 percent higher than normal from March 15 to November 14. Altogether, the analysis shows that 339,000 more people than normal have died in the United States during that period, a number that may be an undercount since recent death statistics are still being updated.
The analysis examines deaths from all causes — not just confirmed cases of coronavirus — beginning when the virus took hold. That allows comparisons that do not depend on the accuracy of cause-of-death reporting, and includes deaths related to disruptions caused by the pandemic as well as the virus itself. Epidemiologists refer to fatalities in the gap between the observed and normal numbers of deaths as “excess deaths.