How many people die from the flu each year?

There are several factors that make it difficult to determine accurate numbers of deaths caused by flu, regardless of reporting. Some of the challenges in counting flu-associated deaths include:

  • the sheer number of deaths to be counted
  • the lack of testing (not everyone that dies with an influenza-like illness is tested for the flu)
  • the different medical coding of deaths (influenza-associated deaths are often a result of complications due to underlying medical problems, and this may be difficult to sort out)

Unlike flu deaths in children, flu deaths in adults are not nationally reportable. However, the CDC uses mortality data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics to monitor relative levels of flu-associated deaths. This system tracks the proportion of death certificates processed that list pneumonia or influenza as the underlying or contributing cause of death of the total deaths reported. This system provides an overall indication of whether flu-associated deaths are increased, but does not provide an exact number of how many people died from flu.

The flu is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization or, in severe cases, death. Even healthy people can become very sick from the flu. Death rates from the flu vary from season to season. Annual flu-related deaths have ranged from a low of 3,000 to a high of 49,000 between 1976 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Outbreaks frequently start in school-age children, who carry the virus home and spread it to other groups.

Flu seasons are unpredictable. The 2011-2012 flu season affected a record-low number of people, while the 2012-2013 flu season was moderately severe. The flu season in the United States commonly peaks in January or February, but it can begin as early as October and continue into May.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.