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 get sick each year. While some people don’t get seriously ill from the flu, some people do. Each year, thousands of people die from the flu—including children.

There are many factors that contribute to annual flu deaths, like how many people were infected with the flu, the availability of flu vaccines, and the strain of the flu virus that was going around.

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

This article will go over current flu information and some history of notable flu outbreaks. It also talks about specific flu-related concerns for children, and what you can do to keep your family safe.

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

CDC Estimates

For adult flu-related deaths, there is a yearly estimate that is based on scientific research.

Some public health organizations use estimates that include pneumonia or flu-related complications while others do not include these cases in the total number of flu deaths.

The number of children who have died from the flu each year is more accurate because states have been required to report this information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 2004.

Annual Flu Deaths

According to the CDC, annual flu-related deaths between 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. The highest season was 2017–2018 and the lowest was 2011–2012.

Deaths in Flu Pandemics

There have been several notable flu pandemics throughout history. While they may have been more widespread in specific parts of the world, the impact of a pandemic is usually felt worldwide.

  • 1889 Russian flu pandemic: Around 1 million flu deaths
  • 1918 Spanish flu pandemic: Infected about a third of the world's population; at least 50 million flu deaths globally, including about 675,000 in the U.S.
  • 1957 Asian flu pandemic: Around 1.1 million flu deaths, including about 116,000 in the U.S.
  • 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic: Around 1 million flu deaths, with 100,000 in the U.S.
  • 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic: Up to 575,000 deaths worldwide during the first year and up to 18,300 deaths in the U.S.

The chart below illustrates these numbers and particularly shows the overwhelming impact of the 1918 flu.

Pediatric Flu Deaths

Flu infections can progress quickly and cause long illnesses that, in some cases, lead to death.

A case of the flu can be more serious for children who have asthma, diabetes, weakened immune systems, or other chronic medical conditions.

While these children are vulnerable and are more likely to have serious respiratory problems if they get sick, even healthy children can get a severe case of the flu.

In fact, data has shown that about half of the children who die from the flu each year did not have any known risk factors for flu complications.

Flu deaths in children reached a new high during the 2019-2020 season in the U.S. About 78% of kids who died from flu that year had not received flu 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 in the first place. There are also some key steps to take if you do get sick that can help reduce your risk of developing severe complications or spreading the flu to people who are vulnerable.

Get the Facts

Information about available flu vaccines can change from year to year. You’ll get the most reliable updates from your healthcare provider, a local pharmacy, or trusted online resources like the CDC.

There are several steps you can take to prevent the flu. Many of these actions will also help prevent spreading the virus or having serious complications if you do get sick.

  • Get a flu shot every year. The best protection from the flu is getting a yearly flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine by the end of October each year.
  • Take precautions if you’re caring for a baby. Babies younger than 6 months are at high risk of catching the flu but are too young to be vaccinated. If you are taking care of an infant, it is important for you to be vaccinated.
  • Call your healthcare provider if you think you have the flu. Your provider can spot flu complications early and decide if you need treatment with prescription medication, such as antiviral medications. If you get a bacterial infection while you have the flu (which is caused by a virus) you might need antibiotics. Sometimes, medications can make your illness milder or help you feel better faster. They may also help prevent complications—including death.

How to Avoid the Flu

Summary

Influenza infections can lead to death, usually because complications happen. Young children, especially those with medical conditions, are at particular risk.

Throughout history, pandemics have led to millions of people dying from the flu.

In the modern era, flu vaccines have helped to reduce flu-related deaths. Today, people have access to annual flu shots.

However, babies younger than 6 months old can’t get the flu shot, which is why it’s important for their families and those who care for them to be vaccinated.

Other measures like frequent, proper handwashing and staying home if you catch the flu, prevent the virus from spreading. If you do get sick, there are treatments that may help prevent flu-related complications, including death.

12 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.
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