The CDC reports that 80,000 Americans died of the flu during the 2017-2018 season as they urge vaccination this year

By Julie Mazziotta
September 27, 2018 01:05 PM
Credit: Getty

Last winter’s flu season was the deadliest in at least four decades, the Centers for Disease Control said Wednesday, with an estimated 80,000 deaths in the United States.

The 2017-2018 flu season was particularly severe, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, told the Associated Press.

“I’d like to see more people get vaccinated,” Redfield said at an event in New York. “We lost 80,000 people last year to the flu.”

On average, around 12,000 people die of the flu during a mild year, like the 2011-2012 season. Prior to last winter, the most severe flu season in recent years saw 56,000 deaths, between 2012-2013.

Additionally, 180 of the reported deaths were children, the highest reported total ever. The CDC also said that 80 percent of those children were not vaccinated.

Not all flu deaths are reported to the CDC, so the number of reported cases and estimated deaths are typically very different. The CDC said that the estimated 80,000 deaths last winter is still being finalized, but they expect the number to go up, not down.

RELATED VIDEO: Here’s What You Need to Know If You Get the Flu

And now, with winter on its way, the CDC is urging Americans who are 6 months old or older to get vaccinated for the 2018-2019 season before the end of October.

At this point, health officials don’t know how severe this flu season will be, but they believe it’s a milder strain than last year, and that they’ve created a vaccine that will better protect people from the virus.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re seeing more encouraging signs than we were early last year,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a CDC flu expert, said.

If you think you may have the flu — symptoms include a fever, cough, muscle aches, chills and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting — but aren’t sure if it’s that or a cold, the best thing to do is see a doctor.

“Colds and flu can initially have a lot of the same symptoms so it can be difficult to tell them apart at first,” Dr. Travis Stork, an ER physician, host of The Doctors and a member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad, previously said. “If you’re worried, it’s always best to be evaluated.”

And don’t be afraid to pass on handshakes or hugs to avoid infection.

“During cold and flu season, it’s not rude!” Stork told PEOPLE.