Sometimes comparisons are drawn between the seasonal flu and Covid-19. But how many die from the seasonal flu in a typical year? According to Switzerland’s Federal Statistical Office, surprisingly few.
Over the ten years from 2009 to 2018, an annual average of 1181 people died from the flu in Switzerland, according to death certificate data collated by the Federal Statistical Office, a rate of around 14 per million. From 2009 to 2018, the number of deaths attributed to flu have ranged from 31 people (2010) to 3211 people (2018) in the worst year.
Overall, from 2009 to 2018, flu accounted for 0.2% of all deaths, which have averaged 64,6921 annually.
Flu deaths (118) fall under the category of deaths from respiratory disease. They account for around 3% of the 4,1401 deaths in this group. The most common causes of death from respiratory disease are chronic bronchitis (1,9111) and pneumonia (1,2881). Smoking is the main cause of chronic bronchitis, while pneumonia is typically caused by diseases, including bacterial, fungal and viral infections.
Most fatal cases of flu involve pneumonia so some flu deaths can end up being recorded as pneumonia instead of flu deaths. This is a known challenge and typically occurs in cases where the cause of pneumonia is unknown. On average from 2009 to 2018, Swiss flu deaths were 8% (118 / (118 + 1,288)) of total combined flu and pneumonia deaths. A hypothetical doubling of this percentage would push the average annual number of flu deaths would rise to 253, which would still be a relatively small percentage of total annual deaths.
Other unlikely causes of death in Switzerland include tuberculosis (141), AIDS (341), asthma (941) and road accidents (2081). Infectious diseases, excluding respiratory ones, accounted for an average of 768 annual deaths from 2009 to 2018, or 1.2% of total deaths. From 2009 to 2018, the number road deaths averaged 2011 and ranged from 1651 (2016) to 2801 (2010). Swiss road deaths accounted for less than 0.4% of annual deaths on average over the ten years from 2009 to 2018.
The biggest killers in Switzerland are non-communicable diseases (diseases that cannot be caught from someone else) such as cardio vascular disease (33%), cancer (26%) and dementia (9%).
The level of flu deaths in Switzerland is similar to the level in England. The average annual number of flu deaths over the three years of 2017, 2018 and 2019 in England was 1,0381, a rate of 19 per million, compared to 14 per million in Switzerland.
1These numbers are the underlying cause of death on death certificates, defined as the disease or injury that initiated the train of events directly leading to death, or the circumstances of the accident or violence that produced the fatal injury, a WHO definition. Some numbers are averages over several years.