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The Cold (and Flu) Facts

January 22, 1992|KATHLEEN DOHENY

According to a survey compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics:

* Americans sniffled through nearly 61.5 million colds in 1990.

* The average annual odds of catching a cold are about 1 in 4.

* When it comes to colds, preschoolers are the biggest germ-mongers. For every 100 children under 5 surveyed, 65 had contracted a cold. Middle-agers (defined as ages 45-64) are the least likely, with only 14 of every 100.

As for the flu: "There's no such thing as a valid figure on flu (cases)," says Bob Howard of the federal Centers for Disease Control. But he has an inkling of how bad it is:

* This flu season, there are already flu outbreaks in 41 states, including California.

* One hundred twenty-one "sentinel" physicians stationed across the United States for the CDC report that 9% of all office visits are influenza or influenza-related. "That's a bit higher than normal," says Howard.

* This year--as in four of the last five years--the U.S. government has declared flu at epidemic proportions nationwide. But it's not considered an epidemic--at least not yet--in California, says Robert Murray, an epidemiologist with the infectious disease branch of the California Department of Health Services at Berkeley.

* In a typical year, the CDC projects that 20,000 people will die of influenza-related illness such as pneumonia. By comparison, Howard notes, the Spanish flu of 1918 killed 580,000 in the United States and 25 million worldwide.

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