An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu or flu-related complications last winter, marking the worst flu season in at least 40 years, according to new data released by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Healthcare officials knew last season was particularly bad based on data already released about pediatric deaths and infection rates, but the final estimate even surpassed the CDC’s previous range of deaths by almost half.
The most recent comparable estimates fall between 2010 and 2014, where the CDC estimated 12,000 to 56,000 flu-associated deaths for a regular flu season. The CDC is not able to track the exact number of deaths because of several factors, so estimates are generated using scientifically verified statistical models, according to their website. These models track deaths associated with and caused by the flu to better show the full impact of the virus.
Flu hospitalizations also had a marked impact on the travel healthcare market. More than 900,000 estimated flu-related hospitalizations occurred last season, which flooded hospitals with patient demands and increased needs for travel nurses.
In the wake of last year’s staggering estimate, healthcare officials continued to urge Americans to get vaccinated this year. The CDC and National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) kicked off the 2018-2019 flu vaccine awareness campaign during a press conference Thursday.
“Any flu death is one too many,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said during the conference. “That’s why it is so important for everyone 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year.”
Along with children, flu vaccinations are especially important for high-risk populations, which include people 65 years and older, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years.
A CDC study that looked at data between 2010 and 2014 found vaccinations reduced the risk of flu-associated death by 51 percent among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by 65 percent among healthy children.
For travelers, getting an up-to-date flu vaccination is not just important for personal health and patient safety, it’s a crucial part of compliance.
Many major hospitals and healthcare facilities in the U.S. require current flu vaccinations for employees who work directly with patients—including Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), which is the largest healthcare system in the country.
“Every year hospitals are getting more and more strict about requiring them (flu shots) from travelers,” said David McKenzie, a director of talent advisory for LiquidAgents Healthcare. “There are very few hospitals these days that will accept a decline (on getting a vaccination), especially after how bad last flu season was. Every year the deadlines get tighter and hospitals get less lenient with travelers who refuse to get it.”
Those who need to get their flu shot this year can find locations offering vaccinations by using the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder tool.
Both the traditional shot and flu “spray” vaccine are available this year. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October to protect against the worst months of flu activity.
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