Elderly South Africans particularly vulnerable to flu

November/December 2010 | Volume 9, Issue 6

Elderly South Africans have an elevated risk of death from seasonal influenza, a recent study shows.  In comparing flu-related deaths that occurred from 1998-2005 in South Africa with those in the U.S. - taking into account such factors as differences in population age structure and baseline mortality - researchers discovered the mean percentage of winter death attributable to flu was 16 percent in South Africa versus 6 percent in the U.S.

When all respiratory causes, cerebrovascular disease and diabetes were considered, the death rates were four to eight times greater in South Africa compared with the U.S. and the percentage increase in winter deaths caused by flu was two to four times higher.

The research team, led by Dr. Cheryl Cohen of South Africa’s National Health Laboratory Service, was supported by Fogarty and the Department of Homeland Security.  Published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, this is the first nationally representative study from Africa to estimate the seasonal flu death rate.

“These data support increased efforts for control of seasonal influenza in elderly individuals in South Africa and other low- and middle-income countries, where the excess seasonal mortality burden could be greater than previously thought,” according to the authors.

The model presented in the research, they say, could be applied to any near-real-time data available from South Africa to estimate the disease burden in each wave of a pandemic as it would progress.


Elevated Influenza-Related Excess Mortality in South African Elderly Individuals, 1998–2005, Clinical Infectious Diseases, 15 Dec. 2010, pgs. 1362-9.

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