How Many People Die From Flu Each Year? Depends How You Slice The Data : Shots - Health News Blog : NPR
A new analysis of the past 31 flu seasons, put out by the CDC this afternoon, shows that 36K might have been a third too high. It’s more like 23,607 per year, on average. But it all depends on how you slice the data.
The new average is an average of the past 31 seasons. It goes all the way back to 1976. But if you were to look at just the past 10 seasons, the average per year is higher — 32,743.
Or you can look at this way: In some years as few as 3,349 have died (back in 1986-7). But the highest annual average toll was 48,614, just seven seasons ago (2003-4).
The reason for this wide variation: Deaths peak when the H3N2 strain of influenza A dominates. When it’s H1N1 or influenza B, the toll is quite a bit lower. Scientists can guess which strain may predominate in a given year, but it’s only a guess. That’s why the flu vaccine doesn’t work in some years. But it usually does.