Flu season deaths are not rare. You don’t need an epidemic or a pandemic of influenza or the flu to cause deaths. Every flu season, a lot of people die from this disease.

These deaths are mainly from the flu complications such as pneumonia or due to worsening of existing chronic medical problems such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu seasonal-related deaths in people are those in which influenza or the flu infection has been a likely contributor as a cause of death, though necessarily not the primary cause.

Flu season deaths in the United States

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year in the United States for the flu illness and its complications and between 3,000 and 49,000 people die each year from the flu. The number of flu deaths every year varies.

For example,

  • The average number of flu deaths during the 1990s was 36,000.
  • The average number over a longer time frame from 1976 to 2007 was 23,607 deaths.
  • If you take the number of deaths year-wise, you will find a vast variation with a low of 3,349 deaths during the flu season of 1986-87 to a high of 48,614 in 2003-04.

The above-mentioned figures are for adults only and are rough estimates. The CDC estimates that 60 percent of flu-related hospital admissions and 90 percent of flu-related deaths occur in people of the adult age group. This only makes it essential that people of this age group take the flu vaccine every year.

However, we have the exact number of pediatric flu deaths that occurred year-wise from the flu season of 2003-2004 to 2015-2015 in the United States.

2003-04 flu season – 152 pediatric flu deaths
2004-05  – 39 pediatric deaths
2005-06  – 41 pediatric deaths
2006-07  – 68 pediatric  deaths
2007-08 f- 88 pediatric  deaths
2008-09  – 133 pediatric  deaths
2009-10  – 282 pediatric  deaths  (swine flu pandemic)
2010-11  – 123 pediatric deaths
2011-12 – 37 pediatric deaths.
2012-13 – 171 pediatric deaths
2013-14 – 111 pediatric deaths
2014-15  – 148 pediatric deaths
2015-16 – 77 flu deaths so far

These deaths don’t mean that all these infants and children died from pediatric complications or worsening chronic medical conditions. Studies indicate that half of the children who die from the flu every year do not have any risk factors. These deaths are purely flu-related deaths.

Why is there variation in the number of flu deaths every year?

This large variation of deaths of flu patients every year is due to two reasons:

  1. A large number of flu deaths are not reported and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relies on statistical information, which may not be accurate.

  2. Another reason is that the severity and duration of the flu season vary. This is because the type of flu virus that is dominant during the year differs. According to the CDC, during the year when the influenza A (H3N2) viruses are prominent, death rates are typically more than double as compared to seasons when the influenza A (H1N1) or influenza B viruses dominate. This is because the influenza A (H3N2) virus is far more potent and contagious than the H1N1 influenza virus.

Flu deaths worldwide

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), flu globally attacks 5%–10% of adults and 20%–30% of children annually.

Hospitalizations and flu season deaths occur mainly among the high-risk groups such as young children below the age of 5 years, the elderly above the age of 65 years, and those with chronic medical illnesses.

About 3 to 5 million cases of severe flu illness and about 250 000 to 500 000 flu season deaths worldwide occur due to the influenza virus. Those are the previous estimates. According to new estimates between 1999 and 2015 obtained from 33 countries, flu kills 291,000 to 646,000 people worldwide each year.

More information needs to be available about the impact of the flu in the developing world and tropical countries. The population of these countries suffers from health consequences due to undernourishment and poor access to proper health care.

More detailed statistics are not known due to insufficient studies.

In our article on the flu virus, we have carried the statistical data on the deaths during the flu pandemics in the United States and Worldwide. We reproduce part of that data here because of its relevance.

Flu deaths due to flu epidemics and pandemics

The world has seen five pandemics during the last century, which took a large number of lives. Here are the figures for deaths that occurred in the United States and Worldwide during those years.

1.    1889 Russian Flu Pandemic – about 1 million flu deaths

2.    “Spanish flu” A  of 1918-19 caused the highest number of influenza-related deaths: approximately 500,000 deaths occurred in the U.S. and 20 million worldwide. That figure is more than the total number of deaths caused by World War I — 16 million. As a matter of fact,  during that year, the flu had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.

3.    “Asian flu” of 1957-58 caused 70,000 deaths in the United States and about one million to two million deaths worldwide

4.    “Hong-Kong flu” A of 1968-69 resulted in 34,000 deaths in the United States and an estimated one million to three million people died worldwide.

5.    2009 H1N1 Flu Pandemic – about 18,300 deaths in the United States and up to 203,000 deaths worldwide

The best protection you can offer to yourself and your family is to get vaccinated with the flu vaccine every year before the start of the flu season.