Pediatric Flu Deaths Reach New High Mark During 2019-2020

October 2, 2020 – CDC today reported 1 new seasonal flu-related death in a child that occurred during week 4 of the 2019-2020 season, bringing the total number of flu deaths in kids reported to CDC for last season to 189. This surpasses the highest recorded number for pediatric flu deaths reported during a regular flu season, which occurred during the 2017-2018 flu season when 188 pediatric flu deaths were reported to CDC.

Among the 189 reported pediatric flu deaths:

  • 42% (80) occurred in children younger than 5 years old
    • 11 occurred in children younger than 6 months and thus too young to get a flu vaccine
  • 58% (109) deaths occurred in children 5-17 years old
  • Of the 176 pediatric deaths among children with known information on medical conditions, 77 (44%) had a pre-existing medical condition.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the deaths were attributed to influenza B infections.

This tragic milestone underscores how serious flu can be and serves as a reminder of the importance of an annual flu vaccine. In 2019-2020, only 21 percent of children eligible for vaccination were fully vaccinated against flu. This percentage was similar to past seasons.

CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine, especially children who are younger than 5 years of age or children of any age who have a high risk medical condition, because they are more likely to develop serious flu complications that can lead to hospitalization and death. Getting vaccinated has been shown to reduce flu illnesses, doctor’s visits, missed school days, and reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization and death in children.

Flu deaths in children have been nationally reportable since 2004. Since that time, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons have ranged from 37 to 189 deaths. For comparison, during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, from April 2009 to September 2010, 358 flu deaths in children were reported to CDC.

While any death in a child from a vaccine preventable illness is a tragedy, the number of pediatric flu deaths reported to CDC each season is likely an undercount. For example, even though the reported number of deaths during the 2017-2018 flu season was 188, CDC estimates the actual number was closer to 600. It is likely the actual number of children who died from flu during the 2019-2020 season is higher as well.

Children should be vaccinated every flu season for the best protection against flu. For children who will need two doses of flu vaccine, the first dose should be given as early in the season as possible. For other children, it is good practice to get them vaccinated by the end of October. However, getting vaccinated later can still be protective if flu viruses are still circulating.

In addition to getting a flu shot, children and caregivers of young children should take everyday preventive actions CDC recommends for everyone, including covering coughs, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.