We often hear about how dangerous the flu can be, but how many flu deaths per year are there in the United States or around the world?
Flu Deaths in the United States
The answer of course is different every year, but on average, there are about 36,000 flu deaths per year in the United States. This number includes people who die from the flu itself and those who develop complications from the flu - such as pneumonia - and then die from that illness. The CDC estimates that between 5 and 20 percent of the country's population gets the flu each year.
Flu Deaths Around the World
Worldwide there are between 250,000 and 500,000 flu deaths per year. In a typical flu season, between 3 and 5 million people will have what is considered a serious case of influenza.
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Notable Flu Deaths
The flu pandemic of 1918 killed approximately 50 million people and possibly up to 100 million people worldwide. It was the worst flu pandemic in known history.
There are a number of reasons that this pandemic was so deadly. There were three "waves" of the pandemic and the virus seemed to be especially deadly after the first wave. It attacked young, healthy people and was disproportionately fatal in this group when compared to other flu viruses. Perhaps one of the most significant reasons that this pandemic was so severe was the quality of health care at the time. Very few medications were available and sanitation practices were poor. This contributed to the rapid spread of disease and the inability to treat secondary infections such as pneumonia.
Although the 1918 pandemic was extremely deadly, about 95% of people in industrialized nations who got it had a relatively mild illness and recovered. Researchers estimate that up to a third of the world's population was infected with the flu during the 1918 pandemic.
In contrast, our latest flu pandemic - the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic - caused the deaths of at least 16,000 people around the world between April 2009 and February 2010. However, the actual number of flu deaths is likely much higher because many people that died from this flu were not tested for it. Once the pandemic is over and researchers can get a clearer picture of what happened, more accurate estimates can be made.
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"About the Flu." Flu.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services. 22 Feb 10.
Taubenberger JK, Morens DM. " 1918 influenza: the mother of all pandemics." Emerging Infectious Diseases [serial on the Internet]. 2006 Jan. National Center for Infectious Diseases. 22 Feb 10.
"Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 - Update 88." World Health Organization 19 Feb 10. 22 Feb 10.