How many people die of the flu each year? How the death rate compares to coronavirus - and how to get the flu jab in 2020

Plans have been floated to double the number of people who get the flu jab this winter

Friday, 2nd October 2020, 4:07 pm

At the end of September, the world passed a grim milestone, recording over 1 million deaths from Covid-19.

That's a staggering number of lives lost to the pandemic.

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But are we only hearing about it due to the virus' novelty - it's sudden appearance on the world stage presenting humanity a new threat we're ill prepared for?

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

How bad is it when compared to say, the flu? Doesn't the flu also kill millions of people every year? Is coronavirus really much worse?

Here's everything you need to know.

How many people die from the flu?

The answer to that question is, in short, 'yes'. Coronavirus is a big deal.

For comparison's sake, the World Health Organisation estimated that in 2017, the world saw between 290,000 and 650,000 people die from influenza-related causes.

Those numbers fluctuate year by year, depending on the virility of the strains circulating at the time and other seasonal factors.

But the WHO estimates that on average, 389,000 die around the world annually, in line with research by the University of Edinburgh that suggested a similar number.

That's under half the number of deaths that have already been caused by Covid-19, less than a year after reports of the new virus first started circulating.

How does it affect the UK?

Government data states that during the last peak flu season (week 40 of 2019 and week 14 of 2020) nearly 2,000 people were admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) with the flu in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Of the 1,802 patients admitted, 103 died, a fatality rate of 5.7 per cent.

Again, these numbers vary depending on the severity of a flu season. There were 3,017 ICU cases in England in the 2018-19 season, 3,245 in the 2017-18 season and 992 in the 2016-17 season.

These numbers only reflect the situation during those peak times of the flu season, and flu can be caught and spread at any time of year.

But even so, the numbers are nowhere near as high as what we've seen so far from Covid-19.

Who does the flu affect most?

It's widely reported that older patients and those made vulnerable by underlying health conditions are more at risk from developing complications following a coronavirus diagnosis.

But how does the flu compare?

According to the WHO's research, 67% of influenza-related deaths are among people 65 years and older.

Countries in which citizens have a lower level of access to health care see higher instances of death, while underdeveloped nations also see mortality rates creep up in adults 65 under years.

How do I get the flu vaccine?

The Government is keen to minimise the impact both peak flu season and coronavirus could have on health services when combined.

So plans have been floated to double the number of people who get the flu jab this winter, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock promising “the biggest flu vaccination programme in history”.

The best and most effective time to have a flu vaccine is from the beginning of October to the end of November, but you can have the jab later in the winter too.

In all cases, the best course of action is to ask a GP or pharmacist, and you can have your NHS flu vaccine at your GP surgery or a local pharmacy offering the service.

The following people are eligible for a free flu jab in 2020:

- People aged 50 and over

- Pregnant women

- People with certain health conditions, including kidney disease, asthma and heart disease

- Carers and those in care homes

- Frontline health and social care workers

- Children over six months with a long-term health condition

- Children aged two and three

Children in primary school

- Children aged 11 by 31 August 2020

- Anyone living in a household with somebody on the NHS shielded patient list

For more information on flu vaccinations, head to the NHS’ website