An estimated 80,000 people died of the flu last winter, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which makes it the deadliest flu season in four decades.
The first report that published seasonal flu deaths was released in 1976, said CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund. This means the first published deadly season was also the last until now. The nation also experienced a record-breaking 900,000 hospitalizations during the last flu season.
On the low end, flu-related deaths averaged around 12,000 during the 2011-2012 season, and averaged on the high end around 56,000 between 2012-2013.
This season accounted for the deaths of 180 children. The CDC reports the previous record high was 171 during a non-pandemic flu season.
In a news conference last Thursday hosted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome M. Adams explained the majority of children who died were unvaccinated.
“One hundred and eighty kids — this really hit me hard as the father of three kids — died last year from the flu, he said. “Flu vaccinations save lives.”
The severity of the deadly flu season is based on flu activity, hospitalizations, deaths from pneumonia or influenza. CDC Spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said, “across the board, last year was definitely bad.”
Illnesses increased in November, followed by high activity in January and February and continued into March. Nordlund said the season typically strikes one region of the country and expands. However, last season she said “there were three consecutive weeks when the entire continental US was affected by flu at a very high level.”
People of all age groups were severely affected by the flu last season. Adams explained it’s not just about keeping an individual safe, it’s about keeping your community safe. He said it’s a “social responsibility to get vaccinated.”
Pregnant Women at Risk
Pregnant women are also not keeping up with flu vaccinations. Dr. Laura E. Riley, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine, said that less than half o f all pregnant women received the flu shot last year. The immune system does not work full throttle, she said.
Pregnant women are at risk of hospitalization if they come down with the flu and this can potentially harm the baby. “It is critical that we help pregnant women not get the flu,” she said.
High fever can cause birth defects or lead to premature birth. Pregnant women should receive the flu vaccination at the beginning of each trimester to protect themselves and the fetus. It is beneficial because it helps protect the baby after birth. Babies are unable to receive the flu shot until after they are six months old
The CDC also recommends that children be immunized every six months with the flu shot. Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, chief of digital innovation and digital health at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, said that children are one of the reasons the flu moves around the community.
Upcoming Flu Landscape
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine last season was around 40% last year, meaning it reduced a person’s risk of seeking medical care by that much. Those who receive the vaccination are less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to die.
Australia is often looked at to determine what’s coming for nations in the Northern Hemisphere. As of September 9, Australia is experiencing a mild flu season and deaths in association with the flu have been low.
Regardless of how Australia is panning out, people should always stay on top of their preventative health by frequently washing hands, covering a cough or sneeze and staying home if sick.