Documented cases of seasonal influenza are exceptionally low in the United States for this time of the year, but pneumonia deaths are surging higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest data from the US CDC.
Throughout the country, just 1.6% of reported patient visits to healthcare providers have been due to influenza-like illness in the past week. This percentage is lower than the national baseline of 2.6%, according to the CDC’s weekly FluView report.
The number of specimens tested so far this season is 219,841, while only 159 cases have come back positive for influenza. A total of 118 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations happened between October 1 and January 2, which is lower than average for this point in the season. Meanwhile, surveillance data showed that 14.5% of deaths during the week ending in January 2 were due to pneumonia, influenza, and COVID-19 (PIC). This percentage is above the epidemic threshold of 6.9% for this time of the season.
Of the 2,150 PIC deaths reported for the week, 1,496 had COVID-19 documented as an underlying or contributing cause of death on the death certificate and just two listed influenza. This suggests that the current increase in PIC mortality is attributable to COVID-19, not influenza.
The reported data from the CDC includes a combination of machine coded and manually coded causes of death collected from death certificates. Percentages of deaths due to PIC are higher among manually coded records than more rapidly available machine coded records. Due to the added time required for manual coding, the initially reported PIC numbers are likely to increase as more data becomes available, according the the CDC’s report.
Since there’s been a high number of deaths reported in recent weeks as well as interruptions due to the holidays, the delay of manually coded records may be longer than usual. The CDC says, “data from recent weeks should be interpreted with caution.”