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September 28, 2018

Flu deaths hit 40-year high last winter, CDC director says

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    CDC Director Robert Redfield in an interview Tuesday with the Associated Press said an estimated 80,000 U.S. residents died from influenza and related complications last winter—marking the highest flu-related death toll the United States has seen in at least 40 years, the AP reports.

    Traveling this fall? How to avoid the flu when you fly.

    US experiences severe flu season

    The United States last fall and winter experienced one of the most severe flu seasons in recent years. During last year's flu season, CDC data showed the rate of influenza hospitalizations was the highest in nearly a decade.

    Flu-rated deaths in recent years have ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000, according to CDC. But CDC's statistical models show about 80,000 U.S. residents died last year from flu-related complications.

    According to AP, the spike in deaths could be linked in part to the dominant flu strain that circulated in the United States last fall and winter. The strain of flu called H3N2 tends to result in more hospitalizations and deaths and last year's flu vaccine was not effective against H3N2.

    CDC officials said the estimated number of flu-related deaths that occurred last winter is a preliminary figure. Officials said the figure might be revised slightly, but they do not expect the estimate to decline.

    According to the AP, William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert, found the estimated number of flu deaths surprising, noting the number is about twice the number of deaths seen in prior years that health officials had considered severe.

    Redfield says more people should receive flu vaccinations

    Citing the recent flu deaths, Redfield said he would "like to see more people get vaccinated" against the flu.

    U.S. health officials on Thursday plan to hold a media event to highlight the importance of getting flu vaccinations to protect against the disease this upcoming winter.

    Daniel Jernigan, director of CDC's Influenza Division, said the United States is expected to experience a milder strain of influenza this flu season and this season's vaccine, which has been updated in an effort to protect against expected flu strains, appears to be an appropriate match. "We don't know what's going to happen, but we're seeing more encouraging signs than we were early last year," Jernigan said  (Stobbe, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/26; Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 9/27; Sullivan, The Hill, 9/26).

    How to avoid the flu when you fly

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