About 4,000 flu deaths last winter in Austria

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Last winter, there were around 4,000 flu deaths in Austria. The 2022/23 flu season, expected to be strong after the first two pandemic years, thus resulted in casualty numbers similar to those that occur on average about every five years. This is according to data published Wednesday by the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES). For 2021/22, statisticians reported 652 flu deaths, and none the winter before due to the effect of Corona measures.
Since there is no mandatory reporting of influenza in Austria, it is the case that the number of flu deaths must be recorded using “alternative systems,” Bernhard Benka, head of the AGES Public Health business unit, explained in an interview with APA. The calculation method was changed this year, and for the first time, the monthly open data publications of Statistics Austria established during the pandemic were used with the number of deaths – without causes of death – by calendar week, reported AGES statistician Lukas Richter. “The new thing is that we get more timely and better quality data,” Benka said. The expert explained that this retroactively changed AGES figures for flu deaths in earlier years, but it was also possible to estimate pandemic years retrospectively for the first time.

With this, the so-called influenza-associated excess mortality in calendar weeks 40 to 20 of 2022/23 was calculated by AGES with 4,020 affected persons. Within the range of variation (95 percent confidence interval), there were thus 3,578 to 4,462 influenza deaths. In the last entire winter before the 2018/2019 Corona pandemic, there were an estimated 2,022 influenza victims, 4,277 in the season before that (2017/2018), and 4,939 in the winter months of 2016/2017, the highest number of flu deaths in the past seven years, according to the AGES estimate.

In terms of flu and flu-like illnesses, there had been comparatively high numbers of infections in late 2022, and the first influenza (“true flu”) detections were early in the fall. Benka spoke of returning to “normalcy” after the first years of the Corona pandemic. But he said the fact that there were no more flu deaths overall than in previous years may have been because many of the over-65 group, which is also vulnerable to influenza, had already died from Covid-19.

There was also excitement in the 2022/23 flu wave about several children who died due to influenza. Further analysis by AGES on influenza mortality will only be able to distinguish between over-65 and under-65 and will not show the number of children who died, Benka explained in response to an APA query. It happens again and again that children also die “from fulminant influenza,” the infection expert reminded, pointing to the flu vaccination, which is especially recommended not only for the elderly but also for pregnant women and children.

Additional indicators of influenza or covid are included in the modelling used to calculate flu deaths, Richter explained. Following the recent expiration of the Covid-19 reporting requirement, AGES also plans to estimate excess mortality from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the future, Benka said. For that, it needs such data as the number of people with severe respiratory infections (“SARI”) undergoing inpatient hospital treatment and wastewater analysis data.

( S E R V I C E – www.ages.at/mensch/krankheit/krankheitserreger-von-a-bis-z/grippe )/picture: Bild von Silvia auf Pixabay

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