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Last winter’s death rate halved due to type of flu virus

24,300 excess deaths during winter months, says ONS

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The number of excess deaths in England and Wales during last winter almost halved from the previous year due to a particular flu strain that seemed to avoid older vulnerable people.

New figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that there were 24,300 excess deaths from December 2015 to March 2016, which was almost half the 44,000 such deaths recorded in the same period the previous year.

The figures for last winter mean that there were 15% more deaths in winter compared to the non-winter months.

Dr Annie Campbell, ONS statistician for health analysis and life events, said: “One of the key factors behind the lower excess mortality this winter was a fall in the number of deaths among the elderly.

“This was mainly due to the most prevalent strain of the flu virus impacting younger people rather than older people, who are more at risk.”

The British Heart Foundation said that despite the fall in excess deaths, around 350 extra deaths were still happening every week from heart disease and stroke during the winter months, which was 14% higher than the rest of the year.

The charity said that during particularly cold weather, vulnerable people, such as heart patients and older people should look after their health and keep warm – a message the BHF and Public Health England were promoting as part of their Stay Well this Winter campaign.

The BHF is funding research at University College London to improve understanding of how low temperatures may increase susceptibility to heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “The figures paint a worrying picture for winter in the UK, showing a spike in deaths from heart disease at this time of year.

“This is why we are funding vital research to learn more about why this is and how people can reduce their risk. We know that as you get colder, your blood vessels constrict and the blood thickens increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

“People with chronic heart disease are around 11 times more likely to die if they develop flu compared to healthy individuals therefore it is particularly important that people living with heart conditions are well prepared, keep warm during the winter and have a flu jab.”

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