Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that spreads from one individual to another. It’s caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs, in more serious cases. Flu statistics show that a person with the flu is most contagious in the first 3 to 4 days of the illness.
Influenza viruses travel through the air in small droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. Another person can inhale those viruses or pick them up from an object and then transfer them into their eyes, mouth, and nose.
The flu can come on unexpectedly, and since the flu season is upon us, we’ve prepared the ultimate list of stats and facts, so check them out.
The Top 10 Most Interesting Flu Facts and Statistics
- The flu epidemic leads to 290,000–650,000 deaths annually.
- In 2018, more than 80,000 people died from the flu in the US.
- The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was the deadliest in the world.
- 675,000 Americans died during the Spanish flu outbreak.
- 40% of the US navy got the Spanish flu.
- The CDC estimates that almost 61 million people in the US were infected by swine flu.
- There were 8 million cases of bird flu in the US in 2015.
- The number of US flu-related deaths ranges between 12,000 and 56,000 yearly.
- 20% to 30% of people with the flu virus don’t experience influenza symptoms.
- The first documented flu pandemic was in 1580.
General Flu Statistics and Facts
1. Influenza statistics worldwide report that every year, 3 to 5 million people suffer from the severe illness caused by the flu.
(World Health Organization)
The majority of people recover from influenza quickly and without a doctor’s help. However, it can also cause complications and severe illness for people who are at high risk, that is, pregnant women, children younger than 5 years, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses.
2. The flu epidemic leads to 290,000 to 650,000 deaths worldwide annually.
(World Health Organization)
According to our statistics on the flu, these deaths typically occur due to respiratory issues. In industrialized countries, most deaths caused by the flu strike people who are 65 or older. These epidemics can also overwhelm clinics and hospitals during the peak of the illness. They also can lower productivity levels and result in high levels of absence from school and work.
3. In 2018, more than 80,000 people died from the flu in the US.
The last flu season brought us some record-breaking numbers. The total US flu deaths in 2018 greatly outnumber previous years. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) started a flu shot campaign to raise awareness.
4. Over 900,000 people were hospitalized due to the flu in 2018.
The last flu season also resulted in the hospitalization of almost a million people across the US. These new numbers emphasize the seriousness and gravity of flu outbreaks. According to the CDC, the flu stats from last season also demonstrate the importance of flu shots, which reduce the risk of getting the flu.
5. 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu every year.
Children younger than 5, especially those under 2, are most prone to getting the flu. We’ve already mentioned adults older than 65, but residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are also at great risk. People with weakened immune systems, chronic illnesses, pregnant and postpartum women, and obese people are other groups that have a high risk of getting influenza.
6. 9.3–49 million illnesses are caused by the flu annually in the US.
Every year the CDC flu facts estimate influenza’s toll on the US. Since 2010, the number of annual illnesses caused by the flu has been oscillating from 21 million to 49 million. There have also been between 140,000 and 960,000 hospitalizations, as well as between 12,000 and 79,000 deaths each year since 2010.
7. 186 children have died since October 2018 because of the flu.
This number is higher than the previous year’s total pediatric flu deaths, which statistics count at 171. The pediatric deaths associated with the flu have been carefully evaluated since 2004. The totals ranged from 37 in the 2011–2012 season to 186 during the 2017–2018 season. However, the 2009 pandemic had the highest number of children’s deaths: 358.
8. The estimated annual cost of the flu is $10.4 million.
And this is just the number for medical expenses. There’s the additional expense of $16.3 billion in overall lost earnings, and $7 billion due to sick days and lost productivity in the US. The flu statistics also report that the loss of productivity during the 2017–2018 flu season reached a shocking $21 billion.
9. 200,000 Americans are hospitalized every year due to flu-related illnesses.
This leads to higher costs of hospitalizations and outpatient doctor visits. It usually takes 3 to 7 days for a person to get better, but there might be some complications. Out of those 200,000 people, 3,000–49,000 people die from complications caused by the flu.
10. Flu-related fevers go from 100°F to 104°F, according to the influenza facts.
It’s also very common for children to have higher fevers than adults. Other flu symptoms include a dry, persistent cough, headaches, fatigue, sneezing, a runny and stuffy nose, and muscle pains in the neck, back, arms, and legs. Although the symptoms of flu are similar to cold symptoms, you should know that the symptoms of the flu are more serious.
11. The usual recovery period from influenza is 7 days.
As claimed by our flu season statistics, the cough and fatigue may last for up to two weeks, but generally, people feel better after a week. Of course, you should consult your doctor before going back to work, school, or the gym, and you should postpone all your social interaction for at least 24 hours after your fever’s gone.
Statistics on the Deadly Spanish Flu Outbreak of 1918
12. 1918’s Spanish flu pandemic was the deadliest in the world.
As the Spanish flu facts report, this was the deadliest flu pandemic ever recorded. Around 500 million around the world were infected, which was, at that time, one-third of the world’s population. Flu outbreaks were observed in Europe, the US, and parts of Asia. From there, the flu spread to other parts of the world. At that time, there were no flu shots or effective medicines to kill the virus, so people were instructed to wear masks. As our reliable flu death statistics show, there were between 20 and 50 million victims. The Spanish flu is known by this name because Spain suffered the greatest loss.
13. 675,000 Americans died during the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.
Businesses, schools, and theaters were shuttered. Bodies piled up in various improvised morgues. The New York City Health Commissioner ordered businesses to open and close in shifts in order to avoid overcrowding the subways and slow influenza’s transmission.
14. More US soldiers died from the Spanish flu than they did on the battlefield, the flu stats report.
The most unusual part of the Spanish flu is how many young and healthy people it killed, the group normally impervious to this type of virus. Although the deaths caused by the Spanish flu are estimated at 20–50 million people, as mentioned, it’s been debated that the number is much higher. Some think that around 100 million people died due to this flu outbreak. Of course, it’s not possible to know the precise number, due to a lack of medical record-keeping in many places.
15. 40% of the US navy got the Spanish flu.
And as other interesting facts about influenza show, 36% of the US army became ill. The US troops traveling by ship and in overcrowded trains helped the virus spread, so very few locations in the world remained unaffected by the Spanish virus.
16. The Spanish flu pandemic ended by the summer of 1919.
There have been several flu pandemics since then, but no other was as deadly as the Spanish flu. 70,000 people in the United States were killed by the 1957–1958 flu pandemic, as estimated by flu trends. This pandemic killed around 2 million people around the world. The 1968–1969 flu pandemic killed almost 30,000 people in the US and around one million people across the world. In the more recent swine flu pandemic, more than 12,000 people in the US lost their lives.
The Types of Influenza
17. There are 4 types of flu.
Influenza A and influenza B are the types of viruses that strike humans. They usually cause seasonal epidemics every year in the US. Other facts about the flu show that there’s also influenza C. This is a type of virus that strikes humans, but it doesn’t cause epidemics. It only causes a mild respiratory illness. Meanwhile, influenza D is the type of virus that primarily strikes cattle, and it’s still unknown whether it affects people in any way.
18. Swine flu (N1H1) was first discovered in 2009.
In 2009, a 10-year-old girl from California was diagnosed with swine flu. According to the swine flu facts, this is a type A virus that usually affects pigs, not humans. It was a combination of swine, bird, and human viruses, mixed in pigs, and spread to humans. Today, swine flu is considered a regular seasonal flu, and there’s a flu shot that helps prevent it.
19. According to the CDC, almost 61 million people in the US were infected by swine flu.
In the case of the swine flu outbreak of 2009, the facts indicate that it killed 12,469 people in the US alone. Around the world, about 575,400 people lost their lives due to swine flu. This was the biggest flu pandemic since the Spanish flu and the flu pandemics of 1957 and 1968.
20. The mortality rate of avian flu is 60%.
(World Health Organization)
Avian influenza, also known as avian flu or bird flu, is a type of virus that causes a highly infectious respiratory illness in birds. Sometimes this virus (H1H5) affects humans. However, it’s very hard to spread the virus from one individual to another. When people do become infected, the mortality rates are very high.
21. There were 8 million cases of bird flu in the US in 2015.
According to the avian bird flu facts, there were also 5 million infected hens in a commercial laying facility that had to be euthanized to prevent the virus from spreading to humans. The United States Department of Agriculture stated that there were no human victims regarding the H5N2 strain.
22. There are 616 recorded deaths around the world caused by bird flu.
Various strains of bird flu have been discovered. There are 16 subtypes of the H strain, and 9 subtypes of the N strain, but only H5, H7, and H10 are recorded to have caused death in humans. Today’s flu report states that since 2013, there have been 1,568 recorded deaths in the US caused by this virus.
Flu Shot Facts and Stats
23. The flu shot prevented 5.3 million illnesses during the 2016–2017 flu season.
The best possible way to protect yourself and prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months do so annually. It’s available as a nasal spray or an injection. The flu shots are made using the same process that has been used for more than 70 years, and the flu vaccine effectiveness statistics report that in the 2017–2018 season, the flu shot effectiveness was 40%.
24. The flu vaccine also prevented 2.6 million medical visits during the 2016–2017 flu season.
Although the flu shot isn’t 100% effective, it prevents millions of medical visits during each flu season. Still, it’s the best prevention against the flu. Flu shot effectiveness depends on different factors like the vaccine type, season, age group, risk group, and so on. The flu shot reduces the risk of getting the flu by 40% to 60%.
25. Flu vaccine statistics show that flu shots prevented 85,000 hospitalizations during the 2016–2017 flu season.
Studies also show that flu shots reduce the risk of death caused by the flu in children. The risk was reduced by half in children with underlying medical conditions, and by almost two-thirds in healthy children. Another study reports that the flu shot reduces the risk of severe flu in adults and lessens the severity of the sickness, as well.
26. 59% of vaccinated adults are less likely to get a severe illness from the flu.
Our influenza vaccination statistics show that out of all the adults who were hospitalized with the flu, 59% were less likely to have an illness that results in ICU admission. Nationwide, flu shot coverage for children between 6 months to 17 years old has remained the same in the last few seasons, but it has decreased by 6.2% in the adults.
27. The number of flu-related deaths ranges between 12,000 and 56,000 yearly.
(The Washington Post)
Although this is a very high number, it’s actually an improvement. Our flu shot death statistics report that in the last flu season, over 80,000 people lost their lives due to the flu. These numbers suggest that the flu vaccine is of great help, even though its effectiveness is not 100%.
28. The flu vaccine reduced the risk of H1N1 infection by 62% among children aged 6 months to 17 years in the 2018–2019 flu season.
The predominant flu last season was H1N1, which is easily targeted by the flu vaccine. This generally led to less severe flu illnesses. As claimed by the flu shot statistics, this decreased the risk of infection by 46% among adults. The effectiveness of the vaccine contributed to a milder flu season.
29. 20% to 30% of people with the flu virus don’t experience influenza symptoms.
(Harvard Medical School)
It’s just a myth that a person who feels fine can’t spread the virus. The flu virus mutates every year, it changes, so you don’t have to feel the symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get the flu shot regularly and build immunity to new strains of the virus that can cause a flu outbreak.
Other Interesting Facts About the Flu
30. The word “influenza” was used for the first time in English in 1703.
(Good Housekeeping) (Influenza Virus Net)
Influenza is the Italian word for ‘’influence,” and it refers to the cause of the illness. Back in 1703, people believed that the planets, the moon, and the stars influenced the flu. The original phrase was influenza del freddo which means “influence of the cold,” but it was modified as the medical thought changed.
31. The first documented flu pandemic was in 1580.
As stated among many flu statistics, the first ever documented flu pandemic impacted 90% of the population. The first disease similar to the flu was recorded by Hippocrates in 412 BCE. Some scientists believe that the cause of the demise of Athens in 404 BCE may have been this flu-like illness.
32. Over the last century, the world has seen 4 major flu pandemics.
We’ve already mentioned the Spanish flu pandemic from 1918, but there were also the Asian flu, the Hong Kong flu, and the most recent swine flu pandemics, according to the flu activity map. The swine flu caused the least damage, with over 12,000 worldwide deaths. The most dangerous remains the Spanish flu, with over 20 million deaths around the world.
33. Whiskey was prescribed as a cure during the Spanish flu pandemic.
Doctors prescribed shots of whiskey or no alcohol at all during the 1918 flu pandemic. Some of them prescribed half a bottle of wine each day, and some recommended a glass of port wine after a hot bath. People also relied on eating and bathing in onions. The Colgate Company participated by advocating avoiding tight clothes and shoes, as well as carefully chewing your food.
1. When is the flu season?
(Kids Health) (Harvard Medical School)
Flu season runs from October to May. The most recorded cases of influenza illnesses happen from late December through early March. Influenza season coincides with the cold weather, so people believe that the exposure to the cold causes the flu. This is just a myth, since the flu is caused by a virus, as we have already explained.
2. What are the symptoms of the flu?
It’s very important to detect the early symptoms of the flu in order to treat the sickness more efficiently and prevent the virus from spreading. Flu symptoms include sudden or excessive fatigue, extreme weakness, and tiredness that interferes with your daily activities. Body aches and chills are also very common, as well as cough, sore throat, fever, and gastrointestinal problems. Flu symptoms in children may also include crying without tears, not drinking enough liquids, not waking up, not interacting, being unable to eat, high fever (sometimes with a rash), and difficulties urinating.
3. How long does the flu last?
The recovery period is different for each individual, but it usually lasts 3 to 7 days. The CDC recommends that you don’t go back to school or work until you’ve been without a fever for at least 24 hours. Even after feeling better, you may experience fatigue and cough for up to several weeks.
4. How long is the flu contagious?
It takes 1 to 4 days after exposure to the flu virus for the symptoms to show. If you’ve contracted the virus, you’ll be contagious one day before experiencing symptoms and for 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Young children and people with weak immune systems may be contagious for even longer.
5. How long does the stomach flu last?
Viral gastroenteritis, most commonly known as the stomach flu, is characterized by abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and in some cases fever. This shouldn’t be confused with the regular flu, since influenza affects the respiratory organs. Stomach flu symptoms usually last 1–2 days, but in severe cases, they may last for up to 10 days.
6. What can you do if you want to know how to prevent the flu?
You can prevent the influenza virus by getting a flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months get a flu vaccine every year. In addition to this, you should also take some everyday prevention steps. Stay away from infected people, cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, and wash your hands regularly.
7. When to get a flu shot?
The flu vaccine is usually readily available from September until mid-November. It’s best to get a flu shot before the flu season gets into full swing in order to give your body the chance to strengthen its immune system and protect you from viruses.
8. What is the incubation period for the flu?
The incubation period for the flu is usually 1–4 days. It varies from person to person, but the average incubation period is 2 days. This means that people start experiencing flu symptoms two days after they’ve been exposed to the virus. Of course, this period also depends on other factors like the number of viruses you’ve already been exposed to. The greater the number, the shorter the period of incubation. The incubation period also depends on the way the flu virus enters your body, not to mention your immune system.
9. How effective is the flu shot?
The effectiveness of the flu shot can vary every year. It depends on factors like age and risk group, as well as the flu shot type. It also depends on the flu virus that’s circulating that season and the flu viruses that were used to make the vaccine. Until now, the effectiveness of the flu shot has varied between 40% and 60%.
10. How many people have died from the flu this year?
The CDC estimates that for the 2018–2019 flu season, between 20.4 million and 23.6 million people have gotten influenza, and around 26,700 have died from it. 302,000 people were hospitalized, which is a rate of 32.1 per 100,000 people. Children had the second highest hospitalization rate of 45.5 per 100,000, and 43.8% of them had an underlying medical condition.
11. How do you treat the flu if you get it?
Keep in mind, there’s no cure for the flu. As for how to treat the flu, there are various ways to ease your symptoms and speed up your recovery. Give your body some rest, stay at home (avoid spreading the virus), and just give your body a chance to fight the virus. Drink plenty of fluids, including fresh fruit juices, and have some chicken noodle soup. Treat your cough, aches, and fevers with over-the-counter medications. And ask your doctor about some prescribed antiviral medications. Sit in a steamy bathroom if you’re stuffed up or use a humidifier to moisten the air and ease your cough.
12. What are the best things to eat with the flu?
Usually, people with the flu don’t feel like eating, but you must boost your immune system with natural vitamins. The right foods can provide you with energy and nutrients and speed up your recovery.
When you’re figuring out what to eat when you have the flu, the most important thing to do is avoid dehydration. This can be accomplished by eating broth (it doesn’t matter if it’s beef, chicken, or vegetable) and chicken soup. Besides keeping you hydrated, warm broths and soups will also soothe your throat. Although it’s stinky, garlic has amazing effects on your immune system.
Yogurts without added sugars, leafy greens, fruits rich in vitamin C, broccoli, oatmeal, and spices will help you fight the flu. Most people know they should up their intake of vitamin C to help with flu recovery, but vitamin A is also vital for boosting your immunity. It’s also important that you avoid alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, and hard foods.
13. What strain of the flu is going around in 2019?
In the 2018–2019 flu season, influenza came in two waves. One peaked at the end of December, and the other one at the end of March. There were two different strains of the flu virus. The dominant virus was the H1N1 strain, which the flu shot fought pretty successfully. The other was the H3N2 strain, against which the flu shot was a weak match.
The Bottom Line
The flu can come on suddenly, without warning. That’s why it’s important to know the flu statistics and facts, in order to help your loved ones or yourself if influenza strikes. Remember all the details and advice, and contact your doctor if you recognize any flu symptoms—even if you only suspect you might have caught the virus. Don’t take antibiotics; the flu is a virus, and antibiotics are effective only against infections caused by bacteria. Get ready for the upcoming flu season by taking care of your personal hygiene, drinking lots of liquids, and eating vitamin-rich foods. Prevention is the best protection against the flu.
List of Sources:
- World Health Organization
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Verywell Health
- World Health Organization
- The Washington Post
- Harvard Medical School
- Good Housekeeping
- Influenza Virus Net
- Kids Health
- Mayo Clinic
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- AAP News
- Medical Xpress