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Flu Season Fears Rise After Record Death Toll Last Year


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Sick child with the flu

After a record 80,000 flu-related deaths last season, the U.S. faces the possibility of another intense influenza spell this fall and winter because of low-performing flu shots, disease mutations and below-par vaccination rates, especially among kids.

The 2018-19 flu season, which began this month, could be as bad or worse as last year’s, health officials say while urging people to take preventative measures, mainly getting the latest flu shot.

“Flu vaccinations save lives,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome M. Adams said at a recent news conference.

The flu season’s peak is typically between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An estimated 900,000 hospitalizations and more than 80,000 deaths were recently linked to last year’s flu season.

The flu’s death toll — the highest in 40 years — included 180 children. Most were not vaccinated, Adams said.

Vaccination Rates for Children Remain Below Goals

Vaccination rates among children remain below a national public-health goal of 80 percent. Last year’s rate dropped by 1.1 percent to 57.9 percent, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Health experts are also reporting a wide range of vaccination coverage among children in the U.S. Rhode Island is the highest at 76.2 percent.  Wyoming comes in last at 43.2 percent.

The CDC estimates last year’s flu shot was effective only 36 percent of the time.

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, are predicting that the vaccine may fall very short for a second year in a row.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration selected the viruses — including the H3N2 virus — for the 2018-19 flu vaccine in March.

Researcher: Mutated Viruses May Sweep U.S.

But flu viruses are constantly changing, says the CDC. So, new viruses — or even mutated viruses — can appear at any time. Selecting the wrong viruses to include in the flu vaccine can interfere with its effectiveness — or its ability to protect against the flu.

Dr. Slobodan Paessler, a pathology researcher at UTMB Galveston, raised concerns about mutations in a recent article in Houstonia Magazine.

Paessler said that due to some “significant genetic differences” in the H3N2 virus that circulated in Australia – and is expected to sweep over America during the 2018-19 flu season – the vaccine may not be effective in keeping people from contracting the flu.

Australia’s flu season runs opposite that of the U.S., so it is often used as guidance in WHO’s recommendation of viruses to be included in the flu shot each year in America.

Paessler’s predictions have been right the past three flu seasons, Houstonia said.

The CDC maintains the flu vaccine is the best bet against the serious illness. People can use a government website — — to find a nearby vaccine provider.

The CDC says getting vaccinated by the end of October is ideal. But getting the shot after that can still help protect the recipient and others from contracting or spreading the illness.

Kristin Compton
Written By Kristin Compton Writer

Kristin Compton's background is in legal studies. She worked as a paralegal before joining Drugwatch as a writer and researcher. She was also a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants. A mother and longtime patient, she has firsthand experience of the harmful effects prescription drugs can have on women and their children. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies | Pre-Law from University of West Florida
  • Past employment with The Health Law Firm and Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson LLC
  • Personal experience battling severe food allergies, asthma and high-risk pregnancies
Edited By

11 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

  1. Gardner, A. (2018, September 20). Should You Get the Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine This Year? Retrieved from
  2. Fox, M. (2018, September 7). Should I get the flu vaccine? What to know before flu season. Today. Retrieved from
  3. Godlewski, N. (2018, September 4). Flu Season 2018-19: When, Where To Get Your Shot, How Bad Will It Be This Year. Newsweek. Retrieved from
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, August 30). Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2018-2019 Influenza Season. Retrieved from
  5. Lassmann, A. (2018, August 15). Divining the Flu Virus of the Future at UTMB. Houstonia Magazine. Retrieved from
  6. Grohskopf, L.A., et al. (2018, August 24). Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices – United States, 2018-19 Influenza Season. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 5). 2018-19 Summary of Recommendations. Retrieved from
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 6). Vaccine Effectiveness – How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work? Retrieved from
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 24). Who Should and Who Should NOT get a Flu Vaccine. Retrieved from
  10. McNeil, D.G. (2018, October 1). Over 80,000 Americans Died of Flu Last Winter, Highest Toll in Years. Retrieved from
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 28). Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report. Retrieved from
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