Up to 650,000 deaths annually are associated with respiratory diseases from seasonal influenza, according to new estimates by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WHO and global health partners.

This marks an increase on the previous global estimate of 250,000-500,000, which dates from more than ten years ago and covered all influenza-related deaths, including cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The new figures of 290,000-650,000 deaths are based on more recent data from a larger, more diverse group of countries, including lower middle-income countries, and exclude deaths from non-respiratory diseases.

According to the CDC, most deaths occur among people aged 75+ years, and in the world’s poorest regions. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the world’s greatest flu mortality risk, followed closely by the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia.

Nearly all deaths among children under 5 with influenza-related lower respiratory tract infections occur in developing countries, but the effects of seasonal influenza epidemics on the world’s poorest are not fully known.

WHO encourages countries to prioritize influenza prevention and produce national estimates to inform prevention policies. Annual influenza vaccination is recommended to prevent disease and complications from influenza infection. Vaccination is especially important for people at higher risk of serious influenza complications and death, and for health workers.

Seasonal influenza is an acute viral infection that spreads easily from person to person and circulates worldwide. Most people recover within a week without requiring medical attention. Common respiratory diseases related to seasonal influenza that can cause death include pneumonia and bronchitis.

Source: World Health Organization