80,000 people died from the flu last winter — the highest number in over 40 years

Getty / David GreedyLast year’s flu was especially deadly, experts say.
  • An estimated 80,000 people died from the flu and its complications last winter, according to the Centres from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Last winter’s death toll was higher than every other flu season going back to 1976-1977.
  • Last year’s vaccine was 40% effective against the flu virus, CDC estimates show.
  • Even imperfect flu shots save lives and can make the illness milder.
  • The CDC says everyone 6 months and older should get their next flu shot by the end of October.

An estimated 80,000 people died of the flu and its complications last winter, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday.

That number was almost twice as much as what experts consider a bad year, Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert, told the Associated Press. Last winter’s death toll was higher than every other flu season going back to 1976-1977, the report added. (Estimates for some earlier seasons aren’t readily available.)

The CDC has characterised last year’s flu season as “high severity,” thanks to widespread flu activity across the US and high rates of flu-related ER visits and hospitalizations. Last year’s vaccine also wasn’t perfect: It was about 40% effective, according to CDC estimates. But even imperfect flu shots are still worth getting.

The flu shot isn’t perfect, but it still helps

Patient hand hospital bedSongpolWongchuen/ShutterstockEven when the flu shot isn’t perfect, it can lower the risk of complications like hospitalisation.

The viruses that cause the flu are always changing. Every year, scientists try to design the flu vaccine so that it matches the actual flu viruses circulating in communities, according to the CDC. But since the viruses are a moving target, the vaccine isn’t perfect.

“It’s not 100% protective,” Dr. Malcolm Thaler of New York City’s One Medical, previously told INSIDER. “In a year when there’s a good match between the vaccine and the circulating viruses, it reduces your risk of getting the flu somewhere between 40 and 60%. So you still can get the flu.”

Read more:
How to figure out if you have a cold or the flu – and the best way to treat it

Research has shown that even imperfect flu shots save lives, however. Even if you get the shot and then get the flu, the vaccine still lowers the possibility of serious complications like pneumonia and hospitalisation, Thaler added.

Plus, getting your flu shot contributes to what’s known as “herd immunity,” Business Insider reported this year. Having more vaccinated people and fewer flu cases circulating in the community can help protect more vulnerable populations, like the elderly, young kids, and people allergic to the flu shot.

It’s not too early to get vaccinated for the upcoming flu season

The CDC recommends that everyone age six months and older get the flu shot, preferably by the end of October. (People who are severely allergic to components of the vaccine should not get vaccinated.)

Read more:
Why pregnant women should still get the flu shot

It’s still too early to determine how effective this year’s vaccine will be, but the scientists who develop the vaccine have made some updates to the 2018-2019 shot, addressing the specific H3N2 strain that sickened many last winter, Business Insider reported this week.

“What we hope is that it’s going to be a better match to what’s circulating,” Dr. Richard Webby, an infectious disease expert at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital told Business Insider.

You can visit the CDC’s Vaccine Finder tool below to find a flu shot location near you.


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