Objectives: The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of recent influenza epidemics on mortality in the United States and to develop an index for comparing the severity of individual epidemics.
Methods: A cyclical regression model was applied to weekly national vital statistics from 1972 through 1992 to estimate excesses in pneumonia and influenza mortality and all-cause mortality for each influenza season. Each season was categorized on the basis of increments of 2000 pneumonia and influenza excess deaths, and each of these severity categories was correlated with a range of all-cause excess mortality.
Results: Each of the 20 influenza seasons studied was associated with an average of 5600 pneumonia and influenza excess deaths (range, 0-11,800) and 21,300 all-cause excess deaths (range, 0-47,200). Most influenza A(H3N2) seasons fell into severity categories 4 to 6 (23,000-45,000 all-cause excess deaths), whereas most A(H1N1) and B seasons were ranked in categories 1 to 3 (0-23,000 such deaths).
Conclusions: From 1972 through 1992, influenza epidemics accounted for a total of 426,000 deaths in the United States, many times more than those associated with recent pandemics. The influenza epidemic severity index was useful for categorizing severity and provided improved seasonal estimates of the total number of influenza-related deaths.