Influenza (flu) infects millions of people in the United States each year, causing tens of thousands of deaths each flu season. Many factors contribute to this, including the number of people infected with the flu, the availability of vaccines, and the strain of the influenza virus itself .
During the influenza pandemic season, during which there is a higher-than-usual outbreak of influenza viruses, the number of deaths associated with the infection is higher. However, even in a year without a pandemic, many people die from the flu.
There is accurate data on deaths from influenza in children because states are required to report this information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For adult deaths attributable to influenza, there is an annual estimate based on proven public health assessment methods .
However, some public health organizations use estimates that include pneumonia or flu complications, and some do not include them in flu deaths.
According to the CDC, deaths from influenza between 1986 and 2007 ranged from 3,000 to 49,000. Since 2010, the death rate from influenza has ranged from 12,000 to 61,000 annually, with the peak season in 2017-2018. the lowest is 2011-2012.
Most deaths are caused by complications from the flu , including pneumonia or a secondary bacterial infection of the heart or brain. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk.
Deaths in influenza pandemics
There have been several notable influenza pandemics throughout history. Some of these were more widespread in certain geographic regions, but the impact of the pandemic is generally felt, at least to some extent, around the world .
- 1889 Influenza pandemic in Russia – Caused about 1 million deaths from influenza.
- 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic : Responsible for more than 40 to 50 million influenza deaths, including approximately 675,000 in the United States. By the end of this pandemic, more than half of the world's population had been infected with influenza.
- 1957 Asian Flu Pandemic : More than 1 million deaths from influenza have been reported, including about 116,000 in the United States.
- The 1968 Hong Kong influenza pandemic : The flu has killed between 1 and more than 3 million people.
- 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic : Between 8,870 and 18,300 deaths in the United States and up to 575,000 worldwide in the first year.
The chart below illustrates these numbers, but also helps highlight the magnitude of the impact of the 1918 Spanish flu.
Mortality from influenza in children
Children with asthma , diabetes, or other chronic illnesses are more susceptible to acute respiratory illnesses that result from influenza infection. However, even healthy children without any medical conditions or immunodeficiencies can get a serious flu infection. These infections can progress rapidly or cause long-term illnesses that can lead to death .
Reports have shown that about half of the children who die from the flu each year have no known risk factors for flu complications. And typically, 90 percent of children who die from the flu are not fully vaccinated .
The following table shows the number of children who have died from the flu in recent years .
Prevention of deaths from influenza
Of course, the best way to prevent death from the flu is to not get the flu at all. There are several methods you can use to prevent the flu and reduce the risk of serious complications and the spread of the flu if you do get it.
- Get your annual flu shot . The best and simplest protection against influenza is an annual influenza vaccination. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot before the end of October each year. Flu vaccine recommendations may vary slightly from year to year, and you can get the latest information each fall from your healthcare provider's office, your local pharmacy, or a trusted online resource.
- Take precautions when caring for a baby . Children younger than 6 months are at high risk for the flu, but they are too young to get vaccinated. If you are caring for a baby, it is important to get vaccinated to prevent your baby from getting the flu.
- See your doctor if you suspect you have the flu . Your healthcare provider can identify complications early and determine if prescription medications, such as flu antiviral medications or antibiotics, can help if you have a bacterial infection. Medicines can sometimes ease or shorten the duration of the illness, helping to prevent serious complications and death from the flu.
How to avoid the flu
- Get an annual flu shot .
- If you get sick, stay home to prevent the spread of infection.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Disinfect surfaces that people frequently touch.
- Avoid the crowds.
Get the word of drug information
Looking at the total number, and specifically the number of children who die from the flu, can be a wake-up call to the seriousness of the flu and the need for precautions for your family.
The 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic was the first for which there were large supplies of influenza vaccine, although the vaccine became available when incidence peaked in the United States.
There were also limited supplies of flu vaccine during the 1968 pandemic. But by the time it became available, the number of cases had already peaked.
In recent years, the availability and recommendations of flu vaccines have improved. Public awareness of flu symptoms and risk factors has also increased, prompting people to take precautions and seek medical attention as soon as possible.