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2017’s Influenza Death Toll Was the Highest in 40 Years, the CDC Says. Here’s Why

September 26, 2018, 9:31 PM UTC

As flu season approaches, hard numbers on how many people died from the flu in 2017 have come in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the flu, as well as flu-related complications, was responsible for 80,000 U.S. deaths last winter. That’s the highest flu-related death toll in the U.S. four decades, according to the Associated Press.

To compare with other years in the history of having the flu shot, the flu typically kills about 12,000 Americans in a mild year. In severe years, the flu season death toll has spiked to around 56,000. The 2017 flu vaccine turned out to not be very effective, which is one reason for the sudden increase in flu-related deaths.

Following the 2017-2018 flu season, the CDC began using a new methodology for ranking severity of flu seasons. The 2017-2018 winter was classified as a high severity season across all age groups, which is based on factors including high numbers of visits to both emergency rooms and outpatient clinics, as well as hospitalization rates. And the 2017-2018 flu season was the only flu season to ever be labeled high severity.

Private manufacturers, which produce the vaccine, have projected needing between 163 million and 168 million doses of injectable vaccine for the U.S. market for the 2018-2019 flu season.

The CDC recommends at least one annual flu shot for every adult and child over the age of six months to be administered by the end of October, with different flu shot schedules available to different populations based on age. In the U.S., peak flu season months are typically November through March. Of course, it’s possible to contract the influenza virus any time of year, and it’s still valuable to get the shot later in the season versus skipping it altogether, as the virus has been known to hang around until May.