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Flu-triggered respiratory diseases kill 650,000 each year – WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said up to 650,000 deaths annually were associated with respiratory diseases from seasonal influenza, a report revealed on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Photo credit: AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI / Getty Images

WHO urged all countries to work together to control influenza outbreaks.

Seasonal influenza is an acute viral infection that spreads easily from person to person and circulates worldwide.

Common respiratory diseases related to seasonal influenza that can cause death include pneumonia and bronchitis.

According to new estimates by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC), WHO and global health partners, the latest death toll has marked an increase on the previous global estimate of 250,000 to 500,000, which dates from over 10 years ago.

The new figures of 290,000 to 650,000 deaths, including influenza-related deaths such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are based on more recent data from a larger, more diverse group of countries.

According to Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, these countries include lower middle income countries, and exclude deaths from non-respiratory diseases.

“These figures indicate the high burden of influenza and its substantial social and economic cost to the world.

“They highlight the importance of influenza prevention for seasonal epidemics, as well as preparedness for pandemics,’’ Salama said.

According to U.S.-CDC, most deaths occur among people aged over 75 years and in the world’s poorest regions.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the world’s greatest flu mortality risk, followed closely by the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia.

Almost all deaths among children under five with influenza-related lower respiratory tract infections occur in developing countries, but the effects of seasonal influenza epidemics on the world’s poorest are not fully known.

“All countries, rich and poor, large and small, must work together to control influenza outbreaks before the arrival of the next pandemic.

“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,’’ said Dr. Salama.

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