Annual Flu Deaths Among Adults and Children

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family

Influenza (the flu) causes millions of people in the United States to become sick each year. This results in tens of thousands of deaths every flu season. There are many factors that contribute to this. They include how many people were infected with the flu, the availability of flu vaccines, and the strain of the flu virus itself.

In a pandemic flu season, there is a greater than usual outbreak of the flu virus. This means more infection-related deaths. That said, even in a non-pandemic year, a lot of people die from the flu.

This article presents current flu information, along with some history of notable flu outbreaks. It also discusses specific concerns about the flu in children, as well as how flu can be prevented.

seven ways to prevent the flu

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

CDC Estimates

There is accurate data about flu deaths in children because states are required to report this information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For adult flu-related deaths, there is a yearly estimate based on scientific research methods.

However, some public health organizations use estimates that include pneumonia or flu-related complications. Others do not include these cases in the number of flu deaths.

According to the CDC, flu-related deaths between the years of 1986 and 2007 ranged from 3,000 to 49,000. Since 2010, the flu-related death rate has been between 12,000 and 52,000 annually, with the highest season being 2017–2018 and the lowest being 2011–2012.

Recap

There are millions of influenza infections in the U.S. each year. The statistics from public health agencies make clear that some of these infections lead to flu-related deaths. These deaths often are caused by pneumonia and other complications. Younger children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk.

Deaths in Flu Pandemics

There have been several known flu pandemics throughout history. Some were more widespread in specific parts of the world, but the impact of a pandemic is usually felt, at least to some degree, worldwide.

  • 1889 Russian flu pandemic: Resulted in about 1 million flu deaths.
  • 1918 Spanish flu pandemic: Responsible for at least 50 million flu deaths, including about 675,000 in the U.S. The flu infected about a third of the world's population.
  • 1957 Asian flu pandemic: Tallied some 1.1 million flu deaths, including about 116,000 in the U.S.
  • 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic: Led to 1 million flu deaths, with 100,000 in the U.S.
  • 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic: Between 8,870 and 18,300 deaths in the United States, and up to 575,000 deaths worldwide, were seen during the first year.

The chart below illustrates these numbers, but it also helps to highlight the sheer scale of the 1918 Spanish flu's effects.

Pediatric Flu Deaths

Flu infection may have greater impacts in children who have asthma, diabetes, weakened immune systems, or other chronic medical conditions. They are more likely to have serious respiratory difficulties. However, even healthy children can get a severe flu infection. These infections can progress quickly. They can cause long illnesses that, in some cases, 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. Flu deaths in children reached a new high during the 2019-2020 season in the U.S., with 78% of kids who died from flu not receiving their full vaccinations.

The chart below illustrates the number of children who have died from the flu in recent years.

Preventing Flu Deaths

The best way to prevent flu deaths is to avoid getting sick with the flu in the first place. There are several decisions you can make to help prevent flu infection. They will lower your risk of spreading the flu and having serious complications if you get it.

  • Get the annual flu vaccine. The most simple, best protection from the flu is a yearly flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine by the end of October each year. Information on flu vaccines may have slight changes from year to year. You can get the most reliable updates from your healthcare provider, a local pharmacy, or trusted online resources like the CDC.
  • Take precautions if you are taking care of a baby. Babies younger than 6 months are at high risk of catching the flu but are too young to be vaccinated. It is important for you to be vaccinated if you take care of a baby. It will help to prevent the baby from being infected.
  • See your healthcare provider if you think you might have the flu. Your healthcare provider can identify complications early. They can decide if you need a prescription medication, such as antiviral medications for the flu, or antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection. Sometimes, medications can make your illness milder or shorter in duration. They may prevent complications or death.

How to Avoid the Flu

  • Get your annual flu shot.
  • If sick, stay home to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Disinfect surfaces that people frequently touch.
  • Avoid crowds.

Summary

Influenza infections can lead to death, usually when complications arise because of age or existing health conditions. History shows that flu pandemics, such as the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak in 2009, claim even more lives in the years they occur.

In the modern era, flu vaccines have helped to reduce these deaths. Most people have access to annual flu vaccines, although babies less than 6 months old are not yet eligible for them. Other practices, such as washing your hands often, can help to prevent the spread of the flu. It's a good idea to contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns about influenza infection.

A Word From Verywell

Seeing how many children die of the flu, as well as the overall numbers, can be a wake-up call as to how serious influenza is and the need to take precautions for your family. In recent years, the availability of flu vaccines has improved. Public awareness of flu symptoms and risk factors also has increased, leading people to take precautions and to seek medical attention sooner.

Was this page helpful?
9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Xu X, Blanton L, Elal A, et al. Update: influenza activity in the United States during the 2018-19 season and composition of the 2019-20 influenza vaccine. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(24):544-551. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6824a3

  2. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Influenza (flu) estimated influenza illnesses, medical visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States — 2019–2020 influenza season.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimates of deaths associated with seasonal influenza --- United States, 1976--2007.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimated Range of Annual Burden of Flu in the U.S. from 2010-2020.

  5. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Influenza (flu): Past pandemics.

  6. Recommendations for prevention and control of influenza in children, 2019-2020. Pediatrics. 2019;144(4). doi:10.1542/peds.2019-2478

  7. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Pediatric Flu Deaths During 2019-2020 Reach New High.

  8. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Influenza-associated pediatric mortality.

  9. Srivastav A, Santibanez T, Lu P, et al. Preventive behaviors adults report using to avoid catching or spreading influenza, United States, 2015-16 influenza season. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(3):e0195085. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0195085

Additional Reading