More people around the world have died due to seasonal influenza with 650,000 deaths reported this year, a significant increase from previous estimates ranging between 250,000 and 500,000, the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control jointly noted.
“The new figures of 290,000 - 650,000 deaths are based on more recent data from a larger, more diverse group of countries, including lower middle income countries, and exclude deaths from non-respiratory disease,” according to the international agencies.
The new estimates simply show how high the burden of influenza is on populations, said WHO Executive Director for Health Emergencies Programme Dr Peter Salama.
“They highlight the importance of influenza prevention for seasonal epidemics, as weall as preparedness for pandemics,” Dr Salama said.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can be mild to severe. It presents with fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain. Children, young people and elderly are at higher risk.
Many of the deaths occurred among children under five years of age in developing countries.
Seasonal influenza is most evident in temperate climates during winter, while it is “less obvious” among tropical regions. However, epidemics can occur throughout the year in such regions.
According to both the WHO and CDC, vaccination is the most effective preventive measure against the disease. Annual vaccination is recommended.
“All countries, rich and poor, large and small, must work together to control influenza outbreaks before the arrival of the next pandemic,” said Dr Salama.
“This includes building capacity to detect and respond to outbreaks, and strengthening health systems to improve the health of the most vulnerable and those most at risk,” he added.
With the new estimates, WHO is encouraging countries to look at ways to minimize influenza infection as well as to produce national estimates to aid in crafting policies.
Currently, the United Nations health organization is collaborating with its partners to study the burden and the economic consequences of influenza among its member states. MIMS