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Influenza in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Influenza, or the flu, is one of the most common infectious diseases in the world. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and include a sore throat, cough, runny nose, fever, headache, and muscle pains. Influenza spreads easily through coughs and sneezes and, although it goes away on its own, can cause more severe illness and even death among high risk populations, including the elderly, young children, and those with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses. Influenza is also a common cause of pneumonia, and symptoms of both diseases are similar, with pneumonia being a more serious infection of the lungs and carrying a higher risk of death. Influenza outbreaks occur yearly around the world, with outbreaks in the United States usually occurring in late fall and winter. Flu symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter products, but the most effective way to prevent the flu is with a yearly flu vaccination. As of 2019, South Korea had the highest rates of flu vaccination among the elderly of any OECD country in the world, followed by the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The burden of influenza

In the year 1900, influenza and pneumonia caused around 202 deaths per 100,000 population in the United States. By 2020, the rate of death from influenza and pneumonia had decreased to around 13 deaths per 100,000 population. Nevertheless, influenza and pneumonia remain among the ten leading causes of death in the United States, accounting for 1.6 percent of all deaths in 2020. It was estimated that during the 2019-2020 flu season there were around 35 million cases of influenza and 380,000 hospitalizations due to influenza.

Influenza vaccination

Although receiving an annual seasonal influenza vaccination is the best way to protect against influenza, many people in the United States do not get regularly vaccinated. During the 2020-2021 flu season only 38 percent of those aged 18 to 49 years received a flu vaccination, while 75 percent of those aged 65 years and older had been vaccinated. The effectiveness of the influenza vaccine varies from season to season and depends on the age and health status of the receiver. Nevertheless, during the 2018-2019 season, it was estimated that for every 4,127 people who received an influenza A (H1N1) vaccination, one hospitalization was prevented. During that time, it was estimated that influenza vaccinations prevented over 1.3 million influenza cases among children aged 6 months to 4 years, alone.


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