Background: Excess mortality due to seasonal influenza is thought to be substantial. However, influenza may often not be recognized as cause of death. Imputation methods are therefore required to assess the public health impact of influenza. The purpose of this study was to obtain estimates of monthly excess mortality due to influenza that are based on an epidemiologically meaningful model.
Methods and results: U.S. monthly all-cause mortality, 1995 through 2005, was hierarchically modeled as Poisson variable with a mean that linearly depends both on seasonal covariates and on influenza-certified mortality. It also allowed for overdispersion to account for extra variation that is not captured by the Poisson error. The coefficient associated with influenza-certified mortality was interpreted as ratio of total influenza mortality to influenza-certified mortality. Separate models were fitted for four age categories (< 18, 18-49, 50-64, 65+). Bayesian parameter estimation was performed using Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods. For the eleven year study period, a total of 260,814 (95% CI: 201,011-290,556) deaths was attributed to influenza, corresponding to an annual average of 23,710, or 0.91% of all deaths.
Conclusion: Annual estimates for influenza mortality were highly variable from year to year, but they were systematically lower than previously published estimates. The excellent fit of our model with the data suggest validity of our estimates.