What Are The Chances Of Dying From The Flu
The number of people who get sick with the flu, require hospitalization, or ultimately die from the virus changes annually depending on several factors, including which strain of the virus is dominant and the strength of that year’s vaccine. But the CDC estimates that between 12,000 and 56,000 flu-related deaths occur each year.
That’s still a relatively small number, considering that the number of flu cases in a given year can clock in at up to 60.8 million, according to the CDC. “In some of these pandemics, millions of people get infected, so death is relatively uncommon,” Dr. Salber says.
How Many People Die From The Flu Each Year
The answer is slightly complicated: The CDC doesnt have an exact count of the number of people who die from influenza each year. Instead, the federal agency develops estimates based on rates of confirmed hospitalizations from the flu.
For that reason, its difficult to compare flu deaths with those of COVID-19, which are actual documented deaths, says , associate professor of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York. In fact, COVID-19 deaths are being tracked by confirmed cases, but there are still going to be numbers of unconfirmed cases so the deaths from COVID-19 are probably higher then what is being reported, Dr. Hicar says. So far, nearly 51 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, resulting in more than more than 803,000 deaths, per the latest data from the CDC.
Compared to the 2019-2020 flu season, for example, the CDC estimated that more than 38 million became sick with influenza, leading to 400,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths. Thats slightly lower than the 2018-2019 season and significantly less than the 2017-2018 season .
Can The Flu Shot Trigger A Harmful Immune Reaction
Although its an extremely uncommon reaction to the flu vaccine, a very small number of individuals may develop Guillain-Barré syndrome , a rare disorder in which the bodys immune system attacks nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
The CDC estimates that the risk of GBS after vaccination is fewer than 1 or 2 cases per million people vaccinated.
Its incredibly rare, so its not something that I worry about, says Ann Philbrick, PharmD, an associate professor at the University of Minnesotas College of Pharmacy in Minneapolis. But it can be a paralyzing disease, so it is certainly something severe enough to mention.
The Mayo Clinic notes that most people recover from GBS, and several treatments can ease symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness. The mortality rate is between 4 and 7 percent.
GBS can also occur after illness from the flu itself, the CDC notes. And, although it is also very rare, GBS is more common following flu illness than flu vaccination.
Ultimately, the potential side effects of a flu shot are nothing compared with the damage the virus itself can inflict.
Respiratory viruses like flu and COVID can really do a number on society, says Conway. Anything we can do to maintain community immunity and prevent any unnecessary death and destruction is really important.
Additional reporting by .
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Flu Is Dangerous For Children
Flu illness is more dangerous than the common cold for children. Each year, millions of children get sick with seasonal flu thousands of children are hospitalized, and some children die from flu. Children commonly need medical care because of flu, especially children younger than 5 years old.
- Complications from flu among children in this age group can include:
- Pneumonia: an illness where the lungs get infected and inflamed
- Dehydration: when a childs body loses too much water and salts, often because fluid losses are greater than from fluid intake)
- Worsening of long-term medical problems like heart disease or asthma
- Brain dysfunction such as encephalopathy
- Sinus problems and ear infections
- In rare cases, flu complications can lead to death.
Are There More Deaths From Flu Than From Covid
Data from the Office for National Statistics show that in England and Wales the number of deaths from influenza was 1598 in 2018 and 1223 in 2019.1 This is way below the annual deaths from covid-19, which at the current rate of around 800 deaths a week in England and Wales equates to more than 40000 a year.2
Disagreements have emerged on social media because some commentators have quoted much higher figures for annual deaths from flu.3 The reason for the discrepancy, as highlighted by the health systems researcher Dan Goyal,4 is that flu and pneumonia deaths are often reported together, including by the ONS itself. When pneumonia deaths are included with flu, the number would be 29516 in 2018 and 26398 in 2019. This is obviously closer to covid death numbers, though still less, according to current trends.
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Risk For Death Around Four Times Higher From Covid
Lopez Montesinos I, et al. Abstract 01939. Presented at: European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases April 23-26, 2022 Lisbon, Portugal .
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LISBON, Portugal The risk for death from COVID-19 is three to four times higher than it is from influenza among hospitalized patients requiring oxygen therapy, researchers found.
The researchers compared patient outcomes from several recent influenza seasons with outcomes from patients hospitalized for COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic. They presented the findings at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
Our findings suggest COVID-19 is far more lethal than influenza,Inmaculada Lopez Montesinos, MD, of the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, said in a news release announcing the findings.
Montesinos and colleagues conducted a retrospective cohort study comparing the medical records of patients hospitalized with influenza from 2017 to 2019 with those of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 from March to May 2020. All participants required oxygen at admission.
After 30 days, 15% of patients with COVID-19 and 5% of patients with influenza had died, the researchers reported. After 90 days, 19% of patients with COVID-19 and 6% of patients with influenza had died.
How Does Someone Die From The Flu
Some victims may contract a second infection while already battling the flu, like pneumonia , which can be severe enough to lead to organ failure and ultimately death, Dr. Salber says. The flu can be further complicated by sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to an infection that happens when bacteria have entered the bloodstream.
Other people may die from the flu because their immune systems are already compromised by another illness. “Getting the flu can exacerbate conditions like diabetes, asthma, and chronic lung disease,” Dr. Salber explains. “If someone with diabetes has mild renal failure, gets the flu, doesn’t keep up with hydrationwhich makes renal function worseand can’t fight off the flu infection as well because they already have a lowered immune response, they can start to spiral out of control.”
But even healthy people can die of the flu, as news reports of deaths among children often suggest. “Young kids who look really healthy may be getting overwhelmed by their own immune response,” Dr. Salber says. In some cases, the body may increase immune defenses so much that infection-fighting proteins build up in the blood and damage other organs. “For example, you can get this immune response in the lungs,” she says, which in turn makes it hard to breathe. “Kids complaining of shortness of breath is not regular with the flu.”
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What Are The Main Side Effects Of The Flu Shot
The CDC lists the following common side effects that people may experience from getting a flu shot:
- Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
- Muscle aches
If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after vaccination and last one to two days.
You can have a sore arm, feel a little achy for a day or two, and maybe have a low-grade fever as your immune system gets turned on, says James Conway, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.
If so, take some Tylenol or some ibuprofen and ride it out its a small inconvenience and certainly well worth the protection from what could be a potentially devastating disease, he adds.
Another occasional reaction to be aware of is fainting a handful of people may temporarily lose consciousness after getting any type of vaccination.
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Benefits Of Flu Vaccination
A 2021 study found that adults who had received the flu vaccine and were hospitalized for flu were 26% less likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit than those who hadn’t received the flu vaccine. The same study reported that people who were vaccinated and hospitalized for flu-related illness were 31% less likely to die from flu-related illness than those who were unvaccinated.
Additional steps to help you prepare for flu season include:
- Avoid contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you are sick
- Practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
- Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Verywell / Ellen Lindner
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How The Flu Vaccine Reduces Your Risk
The CDC recommends that all American adults get a flu vaccine every year. Even though the current vaccine is not perfect, there are many good reasons for you to get it. The vaccine does reduce your chance of getting the flu, especially when it matches up well with dominant flu strains.
The benefits of flu vaccine are particularly impressive in older adults. If you are 65 or older, it lowers your risk of death by 48%. One reason for this lowered risk is that getting the flu increases your risk of developing bacterial pneumonia, which is responsible for many hospitalizations and deaths. But this is not the only reason.
Inflammation is bad for your body, and increases your risk of heart attack or stroke. If youve ever had full-blown flu, and you remember how feverish, achy, and miserable you felt, you know that influenza is great at filling your body with inflammation. So, as you might expect, another benefit of the flu vaccine is that it reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke.
About the Author
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributor
Articles On Flu Risks & Prevention
How many people get the flu each year? How much does it cost us? How well does the vaccine work?
Here’s a rundown of some important statistics based on the best available data.
5% to 20% — Percentage of the U.S. population that will get the flu, on average, each year.
200,000 — Average number of Americans hospitalized each year because of problems with the illness.
8,200 to 20,000 — Number of people who die each year from flu-related causes in the U.S.
$10 billion+ — Average costs of hospitalizations and outpatient doctor visits related to the flu.
1 to 4 days — Typical time it takes for symptoms to show up once you’ve caught the virus. Adults can be contagious from the day before symptoms begin through 5 to 10 days after the illness starts.
Peak flu season in the U.S.
162 million to 169 million — Number of flu vaccine doses expected to be available in the U.S. for the 2019-2020 flu season.
6 months — The youngest age for which the CDC recommends a flu shot.
Swine flu — A new type that spread worldwide during 2009-2010, causing the first flu pandemic — global outbreak of disease — caused by a new flu virus in more than 40 years. It’s estimated that the pandemic caused more than 12,000 flu-related deaths in the U.S. In contrast to seasonal flu, nearly 90% of the deaths were of people younger than 65.
3 viruses — You get protection from two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus with the 2019-206 “trivalent” flu vaccine:
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When Is Influenza Fatal
Although most people will recover from the flu within about two weeks or less, complications of the flu can cause influenza to become fatal. Complications of the flu include:
- Adults over age 65
- Young children
Talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you have about your risk for the flu and what you can do to protect yourself.
People Who Are Pregnant
During pregnancy, the body goes through many changes that can affect the immune system, heart and lungs. These changes can make it harder for the body to fight off infections.
People who get the flu shot during pregnancy pass on protection to their baby. This is especially important, as babies younger than 6 months can’t get vaccinated against the flu. Getting your flu shot can help protect your baby from the flu after birth.
Learn more about:
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Side Effects Of The Flu Shot Are Nothing Compared With Flu Sickness
Many people are also concerned that the possible side effects of the flu shot could be worse than getting the flu itself, notes Horney.
The potential risks of a severe case of influenza far outweigh any very limited risk of side effects , which are typically mild, she says.
Some people equate the flu with having a bad cold. While the flu and the common cold have some symptoms in common, the flu can knock people flat for a few days to as long as two weeks, and it can also have far more dire consequences.
Some people who get the flu will develop complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart , inflammation of the brain , or respiratory failure, which can lead to hospitalization and death, notes the CDC.
Even if youve been vaccinated and still get the flu, you are less likely to die, be hospitalized, or be admitted to the ICU, Horney says.
While incidence of the flu was unusually low last year, thanks to COVID-19 precautions like mandatory masking and stay-at-home orders, the CDC estimates that the 20192020 flu season led to some 400,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 flu deaths.
And we could potentially see numbers like that again this year. As people return to offices and classrooms, and COVID-19 vaccinations lead to more mask-free gatherings, doctors are expecting a major uptick in flu cases this fall and winter.
Indeed, reduced population immunity could result in an early, and possibly severe, flu season, cautions the CDC.
Is It Recommended To Have Both Vaccines Together
Results from the ComFluCOV study have shown that administering a flu vaccine at the same time as a second dose of a covid-19 vaccine is safe.19 Guidance from the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation says that the vaccines can be offered together where operationally expedient but advises that the covid-19 booster vaccine programme should not disrupt or delay deployment of the annual influenza vaccination programme.20 It advises general practices to offer the covid and flu vaccines as soon as patients are eligible rather than delaying to wait for deliveries of either vaccine so as to administer both at the same time. There is no evidence that having both jabs in the same arm makes them any less effective, but many people having both together are choosing different arms to reduce soreness.
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Risk Factor: You Have A Lung Disease Or Asthma
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, the flu can cause your airways to swell and become blocked with mucus, making it harder to breathe. If you have asthma, even if its controlled, the virus will likely inflame your airways and trigger asthma attacks.
Adults with both COPD and asthma are at greater risk of developing pneumonia or another respiratory infection as a result of the flu. You can end up hospitalized or with severe and permanent damage to your lungs.
Getting the flu vaccine can help. Its associated with a 38 percent reduction in influenza-related hospitalizations among patients with COPD, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Chest.
Myth : Those Who Died From Covid
In the year since the start of March 2020, around 1.5 million years of life have been lost from COVID-19 in the UK.
On average, each person who died with COVID-19 lost 10.2 years of life. Looking at England and Wales alone the years of life lost was 1.4 million years, with a greater loss for men , than for women . While women can expect to live longer than men men have been up to around twice as likely to die from COVID 19 as women of the same age.
Even if we look only at deaths among people older than age 75, a total of 600,000 years of life have been lost around 6.5 years for each death.
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