How Many People Die From The Flu Each Year?

By Andrew Yocum, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
March 4, 2022

If you are someone who catches the seasonal flu like clockwork every year, then you understand just how disruptive, tiresome and stressful it can be. Flu season usually stretches between the months of October and May and affects millions of people across the world annually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the flu, or influenza, results in hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and illnesses every year.

Over the last decade it is estimated that anywhere between 20,000 and 51,000 annual flu related deaths occur in the United States alone.

However, there’s no need to panic right away. I know that this number can be controlled with the right precautions in place. 

With so many different strains of not just the flu, but also the COVID-19 virus circulating, it can be overwhelming to keep your mental and physical health in check.

I’ve put together this guide to help you identify common symptoms of the flu so you can navigate the next flu season with caution. 

In this article, I’ll explore what causes the flu and look at what treatments you can undergo to help manage the severity of any symptoms.

I will also unpack flu prevention methods and discuss mortality rates so you’re well prepared for what’s to come.

What is the Flu?

Short for influenza, the flu is a contagious viral infection that infiltrates your body’s respiratory system—that is your nose, throat, lungs, and sinuses with possible adverse effects on the rest of your muscles and body parts as well.  

The CDC has classified the flu into four strains of influenza: A, B, C, and D viruses, each posing a different level of seriousness and contagion level amongst different species.

Influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal influenza outbreaks we see each year. Mutations or minor changes in the genes of these viruses are what lead to their various strains.

While viruses change and mutate all the time, there are certain precautions we can take to keep our bodies safe and healthy to avoid serious complications due to the virus and even flu deaths.

Symptoms

It is quite likely that you already know what to look out for when it comes to symptoms of the flu. Although the symptoms below are the most common each person’s body will react differently to the virus. 

  • Fever, chills, and sweats
  • Headaches and throbbing pains in the head
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Runny, stuffy, and blocked nose
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Tiredness, fatigue, and body weakness
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. This is more common in children than adults.

You may experience some or most of these symptoms if you contract influenza. Some symptoms may persist longer than others. Many people confuse the symptoms of flu with those of the common cold, and that is quite natural due to the many symptoms they share.

Symptoms of the common cold will come on gradually and they will appear to be much milder overall when compared to the flu.

Some of us will suffer more from the common cold than from the flu, so it is important to treat each individual case differently.

Causes

Since influenza viruses are highly contagious, once flu season begins it’s almost impossible to escape it. The virus travels through the air very easily, and you are likely to catch the flu if an infected person sneezes, coughs, and speaks in an air space that you share. 

Although not as likely, it is also possible for the flu to transmit through the touching of surfaces.

This happens when an infected person does not wash their hands when handling objects or shaking other people’s hands, while also touching their own eyes, nose, and mouth.

Infected droplets remain on these surfaces, or in the air, to be inhaled and consumed by others, thereby adding to the contagion. 

You’re also probably wondering why the flu is more common and disruptive during the winter months. Winter air, especially indoors, tends to be dry.

We also spend less time outdoors in the winter, compared to the summer. This makes it easy for the virus to live and spread in the air, and transmit it since we have more contact with one another indoors. 

Treatment

For most cases of the flu, you will usually require sufficient rest and recovery to help the body repair itself in time. Make sure you consume plenty of liquids, keep your body warm and sleep as much as you can. Since the flu is a viral infection, antibiotics are of little use.

However, if symptoms persist and look like they might develop into something more serious, you may take some antiviral medications such as Tamiflu or Relenza.

For body aches and pains you may be advised to take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like Tylenol and Advil. Always consult a medical professional before you decide to take any drugs or medication.

You can reach out to our highly-qualified team of doctors at K Health at any time.

Protect yourself at home by:

  • Getting plenty of rest and not exerting your body
  • Taking a break from screens and stimulating environments
  • Drinking plenty of liquids like water, fresh juice, and soup
  • Eating a diet of nutritious foods packed with vitamins and minerals to aid in your body’s recovery
  • Avoid consuming alcohol, harmful drugs, and smoking
  • Keeping your body and environment clean and sanitized
  • Avoiding contact with other people, especially those who are sick and vulnerable

You may also consider minimizing the symptoms of the flu virus by getting an annual flu shot. I recommend taking the shot every year once you start to keep your body’s immune system up-to-date with the mutations of the virus. While this vaccination will not fully stop you from getting the flu, it will reduce the severity of the illness and even lessen the risk of hospitalization and death due to the flu.

It takes approximately two weeks for the flu shot to take effect on your body and develop the necessary antibodies needed to fight the virus. 

Worried about the flu? Chat with a doctor through K Health.
get started

Average Deaths from Flu Each Year 

In the current flu season of 2021-22, the CDC has recorded an estimated 1,400- 4,200 deaths in the US. Since the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the number of flu-related deaths and serious concerns has been greatly reduced.

This is partly because coronavirus posed a more disastrous threat and an increasing number of people became more cautious when it came to social distancing and hygiene protocols.

In the 10 years before COVID the CDC estimated that anywhere from 22,000-51,000 annual deaths were due to influenza.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 290,000 to 650,000 people die globally because of the flu. The mortality rate and hospitalization possibility are more for those in a high-risk category.

This includes:

  • Young children and the elderly
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with chronic illnesses and immunosuppressive conditions
  • People recovering from other more serious ailments that have affected the body’s recovery and immunity response, for example, cancers
  • Those who live in nursing homes or palliative care facilities
  • People who suffer from eating disorders or who are obese
  • Those who live in unsanitary and unhygienic environments 

Preventing the Flu 

As we’ve seen in recent years, one of the best ways to protect yourself from contracting any virus is by practicing good hygiene habits such as washing your hands thoroughly and avoiding touching your face repeatedly in addition to receiving your annual influenza vaccine.

I also recommend staying away from others, especially those more vulnerable to illness like the ones listed above, as soon as you experience any flu-like symptoms.

If you notice someone around you showing symptoms attempt to maintain some distance from them. Flu vaccines, regular health checkups, and sustaining a healthy lifestyle also contribute to virus prevention.

Worried about the flu? Chat with a doctor through K Health.
get started

When to See a Doctor

If your symptoms worsen or do not subside within a week, then it is time to visit a doctor or seek medical advice. If you are at high-risk then seek medical help as soon as you experience symptoms. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the flu vaccine prevent all types of flu infections?
The flu vaccines that are administered in the US are “quadrivalent” vaccines and are able to protect you against four different strains of the virus. In order to keep your body’s antibodies active and responsive, you are recommended to get the flu vaccine every year.
Who is most likely to have a severe case of the flu?
Those who are at higher risk of catching a severe case of the flu include those over the age of 65, children under the age of 5, pregnant women, and those living with autoimmune and chronic illnesses.
How common is it to die from the flu?
The WHO estimates that 290,000 to 650,000 people die from flu-related ailments annually across the world.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Andrew Yocum, MD

Dr Andrew Yocum is a board certified emergency physician. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Kent State University with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology before attending Northeast Ohio Medical University where he would earn his Medical Doctorate (MD).