Annual Flu Deaths Among Adults and Children

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family

In This Article

Influenza (the flu) causes millions of people in the United States to become sick each year, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths every flu season. There are many factors that contribute to this, including the number of people infected by the flu, the availability of vaccines, and the strain of the flu virus itself.

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

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 validated methods of population health.

However, some public health organizations use estimates that include pneumonia or flu-related complications, while some do not include these in the numbers 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 61,000 annually, with the highest season being 2017–2018 and the lowest being 2011–2012.

Most deaths are caused by complications of the flu, including pneumonia or a secondary bacterial infection of the heart or brain. Younger children, pregnant women, the elderly, 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 certain geographic areas, but the impact of a pandemic is usually felt, at least to some degree, worldwide.

  • 1889 Russian flu pandemic: About 1 million flu deaths
  • 1918 Spanish flu pandemic: Over 40 to 50 million flu deaths, including about 675,000 in the United States. The flu infected over half of the world's population by the end of this pandemic.
  • 1957 Asian flu pandemic: Over 1 million flu deaths, including about 116,000 in the United States
  • 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic: From 1 to more than 3 million flu deaths
  • 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic: Between 8,870 and 18,300 deaths in the United States and up to 575,000 deaths worldwide 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

Children who have asthma, diabetes, or other chronic medical conditions are more susceptible to acute respiratory difficulties resulting from a flu infection. However, even healthy children without any underlying medical condition or immune deficiency can get a severe flu infection. These infections can advance rapidly or can cause prolonged illness, potentially resulting in 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 the children who die from the flu were not fully vaccinated.

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

Preventing Flu Deaths

Of course, the best way to prevent flu deaths is to avoid getting sick with the flu in the first place. There are several methods that you can use to prevent getting an influenza infection and to lessen your risk of developing serious complications and spreading the flu 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. The recommendations for flu vaccines may be slightly different from year to year, and you can get the most updated information each fall from your doctor's office, a local pharmacy, or from a reliable online resource.
  • 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 that you get vaccinated if you take care of a baby to prevent the baby from becoming infected with the flu.
  • See your doctor if you think you might have the flu: Your doctor can identify complications early and determine whether you could benefit from taking 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, helping prevent serious complications and death from the flu.

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.

A Word From Verywell

Looking at the total numbers and specifically at how many children die of the flu can be a wake-up call as to how serious influenza is and the need to take precautions for your family.

The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic was the first for which a large supply of flu vaccine was available, although the vaccine became available as cases were already peaking in the United States. A limited supply of flu vaccine was also available during the 1968 pandemic, but by the time it was available, cases had already peaked.

In recent years, the availability and recommendations regarding flu vaccines have improved. Public awareness of flu symptoms and risk factors has also increased, leading people to take precautions and to seek medical attention sooner.

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Article Sources
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