NEW YORK — An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter — the disease’s highest death toll in at least four decades.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, revealed the total in an interview Tuesday night with The Associated Press.

Flu experts knew it was a very bad season, but at least one found size of the estimate surprising.

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“That’s huge,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert. The tally was nearly twice as much as what health officials previously considered a bad year, he said.

In recent years, flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to — in the worst year — 56,000, according to the CDC.

Last fall and winter, the U.S. went through one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory. It was driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly.

The season peaked in early February. It was mostly over by the end of March, although some flu continued to circulate.

Making a bad year worse, the flu vaccine didn’t work very well. Experts nevertheless say vaccination is still worth it, because it makes illnesses less severe and save lives.

“I’d like to see more people get vaccinated,” Redfield told the AP at an event in New York. “We lost 80,000 people last year to the flu.”

CDC officials do not have exact counts of how many people die from flu each year. Flu is so common that not all flu cases are reported, and flu is not always listed on death certificates. So the CDC uses statistical models, which are periodically revised, to make estimates.

Fatal complications from the flu can include pneumonia, stroke and heart attack.

CDC officials called the 80,000 figure preliminary, and it may be slightly revised. But they said it is not expected to go down.

It eclipses the estimates for every flu season going back to the winter of 1976-1977. Estimates for many earlier seasons were not readily available.

Last winter was not the worst flu season on record, however. The 1918 flu pandemic, which lasted nearly two years, killed more than 500,000 Americans, historians estimate.

It’s not easy to compare flu seasons through history, partly because the nation’s population is changing. There are more Americans — and more elderly Americans — today than in decades past, noted Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a CDC flu expert.

U.S. health officials on Thursday are scheduled to hold a media event in Washington, D.C., to stress the importance of vaccinations to protect against whatever flu circulates this coming winter.

And how bad is it going to be? So far, the flu that’s been detected is a milder strain, and early signs are that the vaccine is shaping up to be a good match, Jernigan said.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re seeing more encouraging signs than we were early last year,” he said.

— Mike Stobbe

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    • From the CDC website….

      “On September 27, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) along with other public health and medical groups kicked off the 2018-2019 flu vaccine campaign at a press conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. CDC early estimates indicate that more than 900,000 people were hospitalized and more than 80,000 people died from flu last season. These new estimates are record-breaking, and emphasize the seriousness and severity of flu illness and serve as a strong reminder of the importance of flu vaccination.”

  • This can’t be true, I think the 80,000 deaths is a cumulative stat over years instead of just one year. I read it’s more like 2,000-3,000 deaths per year in the US. Someone is just trying to scare people

  • This statement, that 80,000 people in the US died of the flu last year. That has to be a cumulative number from over years’ times. The stats I read say it’s somewhere in the range of 2,000-3,000 per year. Why do they post these lies that scare people?

  • the 2018 flu season marked the 100 year anniversary of world war 1. 80,000 americans were sacraficed as a way to control the population by weeding out the old and very young.it is also a multi-billion dollar+ industry that gives authority to the cdc,who can claim that no person has ever died from the flu vaccine.this is simply not true.furthermore any person knows when the flu season starts,it always starts in October.In the least the cdc claims you ARE CONTAGIOUS after recieving either flu vaccine.This part is true.

  • Corona virus is a valid concern. Depending on strain severity, influenza typically kills about 15 people for every 10,000 cases. According to Chinese government statistics, the Coronavirus is killing about 225 people for every 10,000 cases. Other reports put the mortality rate at 400 deaths or higher per 10,000 cases. Making matters worse there is currently no vaccine for this disease. That’s why quarantine restrictions are being put in place. Not racists at all! China has the most severe quarantine restrictions in place for residents of Wuhan.

  • why People are panic when China has coronary virus? they only have less than 200 people die, and people are scare of Chinese coming in? Is this some kind racist? same thing with Ebola. I don’t understand if America is so modern and powerful, how come we are not able to prevent the deadly flu

    • Comment about racist is obviously mistaken. Chinese from Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong are still welcome to enter USA. People are just scared of new communicable disease of unknown severity. And why not? Better safe than sorry. In a couple of months things will be back to normal.

      Western medicine can’t prevent flu because it is dominated by drug companies. The way to prevent flu is by vitamins, but there is very little profit in it.

    • That’s ridiculous that people around the world fear of coronavirus. It does not make sense to me at all. And stock market around the world tumbled badly because of a stupid news that keep reporting the number of dead people.

    • Estimates outside of state run Chinese media put the true number of deaths in from the Coronavirus on the tens of thousands. One estimate I read has it at over 24000 so far.

      The truth may lie somewhere in between, but do you really think Chinese media is telling us the full truth? I know I don’t trust the numbers they are releasing.

  • The rate of the flu can be related to vaccinating the healthy which lead to the following: 1) Rapid selection and spread of virus which has drifted from the original. 2) Mild illness of the infected healthy which allow them to be out and about and spread the virus. In the past 2 years, the percentage of hospitalized patient who are vaccinated increase as the season progress which could be related to emergence / selection of virus which is different from the virus used to make the vaccine. The vaccinated immune subjects act like a culture media which apply selective pressure to select virus different from the vaccine. Vaccinating the vulnerable population is needed, however, there is no follow study to test efficacy of herd immunity with currently available vaccines.

    • I would also like to know the statistics each year on number of severe/deadly flu cases, and whether they were vaccinated the present year and /or the last year. This should preferably be done by an outside agency than the CDC.

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