Does the CDC exaggerate the number of flu deaths?

I recently discovered a letter published in the prestigious British Medical Journal in 2005 that accuses the CDC of falsely exaggerating the number of flu deaths each year in the U.S.   ( )  The CDC says that 36,000 people die every year from the flu.  Given that number, you’d think that I’d seen at least one case during my last 13 years in medicine but I don’t remember any.  I asked one of my colleagues who has been in practice for 15 years and she couldn’t recall one either.

According to the article, 257 flu deaths were reported to the  CDC in 2001.  According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal,  849 flu deaths were reported to the CDC in 2006 ( .  How do you go from a few hundred deaths reported to 36,000?    According to the articles, the CDC used a mathematical model and estimated that about 36,000 people per year have flu-related deaths.

The discrepancy between the reported deaths and estimated deaths is confusing.   Exactly how many lives are saved each year by the flu vaccine?  Does anyone really know?

-Dave Ou, M.D.

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