Why This Flu Season is Particularly Dangerous to Children
So far, 125 children have died during the 2019-2020 flu season. Here’s why that number is unusually high—and how to protect your own family.
The flu inevitably brings death and hospitalizations in its wake, and this season is no different. So far, there have been about 18,000 total deaths—including 125 pediatric deaths—during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The strains have been hitting children and young adults particularly hard. Influenza is scary and unpredictable, so read on to learn more about flu deaths and how to protect your family.
Flu Death and Hospitalization Statistics
The CDC tracks flu statistics each week. As of March 2, 2020, here are the latest numbers for the 2019-2020 flu season:
- 32 million flu illnesses across the country
- 310,000 hospitalizations, with a ratio of 47.4 hospitalizations per 100,000 population
- 18,000 deaths from the flu, including 125 pediatric deaths.
If these numbers seem higher than usual, that's because they are. Indeed, the number of child hospitalizations and deaths is the highest since 2009-2010, when comparing stats at the same point in the flu season (the CDC started tracking in 2004). These numbers have increased dramatically during the past few weeks.
Why We Might See More Pediatric Flu Deaths
The majority of flu deaths occur in those 65 and older—many of whom have underlying medical conditions or develop complications. Yet the CDC is expecting lower numbers of hospitalization rates and pneumonia-related deaths among this age group for 2019-2020. That’s because the flu strain that hits older people the hardest hasn’t been as prominent this year.
Instead, the strains influenza B/Victoria and influenza A(H1N1) pdm09, which typically target children and younger adults, are circulating in full force. The influenza B strain doesn’t usually pop up until March or April, so this trend is pretty unusual. It's also been reflected in the CDC's statistics.
While it’s too early to predict how the rest of the season will play out, expect this second wave of influenza to last for a few more weeks. Influenza will stick around until March or April, which is why it’s vital that parents take proper precautions.
How to Protect Your Family
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies each season, and it’s too early to predict the effectiveness for 2019-2020. Despite this fact, experts unanimously agree everyone older than 6 months should get vaccinated. It’s most important for children with developing immune systems—namely those younger than 8 years old.
The flu shot can lower your chances of catching the flu. It also lessens the duration and severity if you do get influenza. Indeed, if the virus is well matched to the vaccine, the flu shot can reduce the risk of hospitalization by 40 to 60 percent, says the CDC.
"It's vital that children get vaccinated," Dr. Lyn Finelli, chief of the CDC's Surveillance and Outbreak Response Team said in a previous statement. "We know the flu vaccine isn't 100 percent effective, especially not in children with high-risk medical conditions.”
Yet she says the vaccine—combined with antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, which typically shortens the illness by a day—help protect against complications. “Vaccinate first; then use influenza antiviral drugs as a second line of defense against the flu,” she says.
It’s not too late to get vaccinated. Influenza can stick around until May, so the shot might still protect you and your family. Keep in mind that the vaccine takes two weeks to reach full effectiveness after you get it.