The U.S. government estimates that 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter — the disease's highest death toll in at least four decades, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield.

In recent years, flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to — in the worst year — 56,000, according to the CDC.

Last fall and winter, the U.S. went through one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory. It was driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly.

Making a bad year worse, the flu vaccine didn't work very well. Experts nevertheless say vaccination is still worth it, because it makes illnesses less severe and save lives.

The 80,000 deaths eclipses the estimates for every flu season going back to the winter of 1976-1977. Estimates for many earlier seasons were not readily available.

The 1918 flu pandemic, which lasted nearly two years, killed more than 500,000 Americans, historians estimate.

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