UAB Medicine News


Flu by the Numbers: What You Need to Know as the Season Approaches

Flu By The NumbersIt might still feel like summer outside, but flu season is just around the corner. To be proactive and prepared this year, we dove into the ever-changing world of flu trends, strains, statistics, and strategies for staying healthy. In this article, we look at some of the most compelling statistics from 2017-2018 to help prepare you and your family for the flu season ahead.

Last Flu Season was Severe

By December of last year, the number of flu cases had doubled from the same time in 2016. Even at that relatively early stage of flu season – which runs roughly from October to March – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed more than 7,000 cases of the flu, and 90 percent of U.S. states were reporting increases in flu activity. This is particularly alarming because flu viruses are just picking up and beginning to worsen in December during typical flu seasons, with the peak of flu season tending to hit in the month of February.

A Sharp Increase Locally

Something that stood out about the 2017-2018 flu season to Bernard Camins, MD, associate professor in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, was how many more people in the Birmingham area were affected by flu than in previous years.

“The Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) reported a threefold increase in the number of people affected by the flu this past season compared to the season before,” Dr. Camins says. “The JCDH will have the most accurate numbers on how many people are affected each season.”

More Americans Died Last Season

Some treat the flu as a minor illness that will go away on its own, but statistics show that it can be a truly devastating condition for certain people. During the third week of January 2018, 40,414 deaths were reported in the U.S., and 4,064 of those deaths were due to influenza or pneumonia. From that point during the last flu season, the death tolls climbed even higher, especially among people who already were in the hospital. Overall, flu and pneumonia were responsible for about one in 10 deaths last winter.

The CDC reports that the flu virus has caused 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 56,000 deaths every year since 2010. In early February 2018, Alabama public health officials investigated 87 adult deaths believed to be related to the flu and two pediatric deaths. According to the CDC, the southeastern region of the United States, including Alabama, reported some of the highest instances of pediatric flu-related deaths in the nation. Those most at risk of flu-related complications and death are young children, elderly adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a chronic medical condition.

Vaccine Acceptance Remains Low

Despite the rise in flu cases and flu-related deaths both locally and nationally, many still ignore the facts and do not get their recommended flu shot.

“What was surprising to me was that the acceptance of the flu vaccine was not higher than usual even though it was a bad flu season,” Dr. Camins says. “We instituted a mandatory influenza vaccination policy at UAB Medicine, so we had virtually 100% acceptance among health care workers.”