How many people die of the flu anyway?

Data and Metrics Infectious Diseases

It’s not “just a flu.” The flu is much more dangerous than a regular cold, especially for young kids, older people, and during pregnancy. The flu can kill over 50,000 people a year in the US in a bad year.

“It’s just a bad flu.” We often heard this as a way to minimize the severity of COVID-19 during the early days of the pandemic.  Even if that were true (it’s not-COVID is still much more dangerous), something being “like the flu” is NOT a good thing. Prior to COVID-19, flu (caused by the influenza virus) was the most dangerous respiratory pathogen we faced on a regular basis.

The US CDC estimates that flu caused up to 710,000 hospitalizations per year between 2010 and 2020. It also caused as many as 52,000 deaths in one year. The severity of flu can vary widely from year to year depending on the severity of the strains, how many people get vaccinated, and the match of the vaccine to circulating strains.

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html

The flu doesn’t feel like a bad cold, it feels like being hit by a truck. Flu comes on suddenly usually with a fever, sore throat, body aches and chills. Flu can cause other complications, like pneumonia, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), and sepsis. In the US 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC estimated that flu caused 36 million illnesses, 16 million medical visits, 389,000 hospitalizations, and 25,000 deaths.

Young children are at high risk of developing serious flu complications. While kids with asthma or other chronic medical conditions are at higher risk, even healthy kids can get a severe case of the flu. In the 2019-2020 flu season, an estimated 489 children died of the flu. Most children who die of the flu are unvaccinated. While 489 may sound like a small number, there are many, many fewer deaths among children compared to older adults. A flu infection greatly elevates a child’s risk of death above their baseline risk, but these deaths are largely vaccine-preventable.

People 65 years and older are at higher risk of developing serious complications from flu, partly due to declining immune function. In recent years, it’s estimated that 70-80% flu-related deaths in the US were among people 65 years and older.

While flu all but disappeared for a couple years thanks to COVID precautions, it came roaring back last year with an early and average to severe season. So far in 2023-24 the season is ramping up slowly, possibly returning to a pattern of peak activity in January and February. This means that NOW is still a great time to go get that flu vaccine if you haven’t already- GO get it!

Stay safe, stay well.

Those Nerdy Girls

Link to Original Substack Post