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Cloud Analytics: Flu Season Trends

by Iyue Sung, PhD, Director of athenaResearch

It’s that time of year again: flu season. We’ve been reading about this year’s flu in the news, and (as a group of data nerds) tracking it online through CDC reporting and Google’s Flu Trends.

We thought we’d see what we could add to the conversation. So we dug into our athenaNet data set of 40 million patient records to see how this flu season is developing.

Here is what we found so far:

This flu season is severe, but may have already peaked. By our metric, you’d have to go back to the 2009-2010 flu season (the second wave of H1N1 “swine flu”) to find a season that reached the intensity levels we’re seeing right now. However, our data is showing a glimmer of hope: Two weeks ago, flu incidence decreased for the first time since the start of the 2012-2013 flu season, and last week it stayed level. Our data is right in line with other sources right up until this past week (CDC numbers come out on Friday), so we’re confident these patterns are an excellent real-time “flu view” (sorry, CDC)!

Last week’s flu uptick is driven by regional variation. The South, Midwest and Northeast regions of the country seem to have hit their peak levels already, but the flu has continued to ramp up in the West over the past few weeks. Based on flu patterns from the past several years, our guess is that the West reached its peak levels last week, though there have been flu seasons with a second strong peak (2001-2002, for example).

The flu has hit the West. At the end of December, most of the South and Northeast were starting to experience intense flu rates. Over the two weeks that followed, this year’s flu had taken over almost the entire country:

The news coverage and vaccination campaigns seem to be working: more people are getting vaccinated. In October, we saw the usual peak in vaccinations this flu season. However, following the January 4 CDC report that recommended vaccination in light of the flu continuing to spread across the country, we saw an uptick in vaccination rates last week, as seen in the accompanying chart. Hopefully, these preventative steps will get us to the end of this flu season more quickly.

We’ll continue monitoring this situation over the coming weeks, and will post updated findings as they come in. Hopefully, our next post will continue to show the flu abating across the country. Until then, join the growing number of people who are getting vaccinated (find a vaccine near you) if you haven’t already, wash your hands frequently, and stay healthy!

As a statistician, Iyue is responsible for methodology, analytic infrastructure, and extracting data-driven insights from the athenahealth patient database. 

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