Flu Season Was Particularly Deadly This Year

(Image credit: Evah Smit | Stock.Xchng)

This year's flu season was more severe than other recent seasons, with a higher percentage of deaths, hospitalizations and doctors' visits for flu, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between September 2012 and May 2013, the proportion of deaths in the United States attributed topneumonia or influenza peaked at 9.9 percent. That's higher than the peak percentage of deaths during flu season in the last five years (which ranged from 7.9 to 9.1 percent). The 2003 to 2004 season did have a higher proportion of flu-related deaths than this season, at 10 percent. (The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia or influenza is based on death certificate reports in 122 cities across the country.)

The 2012 to 2013 flu season was particularly severe for the elderly. The rate of hospitalization for flu-related illness among those 65 and older was 191 per 100,000 people. That's the highest rate of hospitalizations for this age group since the CDC began keeping track in 2005.

Flu-related deaths among children were also high compared with previous seasons. Among those ages 17 and under, there were 149 flu-related deaths. In the last nine years, only the 2008 to 2009 season had more pediatric deaths, with 348.

The percentage of people who visited the doctor for flu-related illness this season peaked at 6.1 percent. In contrast, the peak during the 2011 to 2012 season was 2.4 percent, and the peak during the 2010 to 2011 season was 4.6 percent. (During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, the peak was 7.7 percent.)

This year's flu season started early and peaked in late December. The extent of the flu outbreak was largest in mid-January, when 48 states reported widespread flu activity. As of May 18, no states were reporting regional or widespread activity.

To prevent flu, the CDC recommends flu shots for everyone ages 6 months and older during the flu season. The flu shot for this year expires on June 30, and after that, seasonal flu shots will not be available until the fall.

The 2012 to 2013 flu activity report will be published tomorrow (June 14) in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.