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CDC Emphasizes Importance of Vaccines: 105 Children Died From Flu This Season

Mar 22, 2013 09:14 PM EDT

The flu season this year got off to an early and virulent start and worsened, killing 105 this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, underlining the importance of vaccinating everyone older than 6 months.

The number is almost three times the amount that died during the previous flu season. Flu seasons vary greatly in severity. In the 2003-2004 season, 153 children died, according to CDC numbers. Out of the 105 children whose deaths were tied to the flu, 90 percent did not have the flu vaccine.

The death toll is up to date as of March 16, but Michael Jhung, a medical officer in CDC's Influenza Division, said more deaths are possible, according to the USA Today: "Flu season is winding down but it's not over."

The CDC recommends that all children ages 6 months and older be vaccinated against flu each season, though only about half get a flu shot or nasal spray. Overall, 52 percent of all American kids got flu shots this year.

"The really telling proportion is the flip side of that: 40 percent of these deaths were in kids who were healthy," Jhung said.

The government only counts flu deaths in children and hospitalization rates for people 65 and older. One hundred seventy seven patients out of every 100,000 hospitalized for flu-related illnesses were in that age group, 2.5 times higher than recent seasons, the Associated Press reported.

An estimated 36,000 people die from the flu and its complications in a typical season, according to the CDC. From 1976 to 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.

"Here we are in the 21st century, and this ancient scourge visits us every year and can still have such a profound effect on our children," William Schaffner, a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told USA Today.

Schaffner said these deaths remind the public that the flu isn't just a throat and chest problem and can involve the whole body. He explained that the vaccine makes it highly less likely that children will need to see the doctor for the flu.

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