Request demo Call athenahealth Menu

Shutdown Week Three: No Flu Outbreak

by Josh Gray, VP of athenaResearch

It’s week three of the government shutdown, and we’re all hoping a temporary resolution is imminent, given the urgency of tonight’s debt ceiling deadline. But even after a deal is reached, federal agencies, including the CDC, will have plenty of catch-up work. We look forward to the point when the CDC can resume its normal operations, which include weekly flu monitoring. But until then athenaResearch continues to examine flu-related data.

As we reported in last week’s post, and as we continue to see this week, there are no signs of a flu outbreak and the number of patients receiving immunizations continues to increase. In Week 41, the week from October 7 – October 13, about 4.9 in 10,000 patients (0.049%) seeing primary care physicians were diagnosed with the flu. That compares to 4.8 per 10,000 last week and 4.1 per 10,000 at this time last year.

 Figure 1. Proportion of Patients with Flu Diagnosis

Regionally, as shown in the table below, we again saw no signs of an outbreak.

Flu Diagnosis Rates, by Region and Week Ending

 Flu Diagnosis Rates, by Region and Week Ending

In Week 41, 17.3% of patients who visited a primary care physician received a flu vaccination, compared to 15.7% in Week 40 and 15.6% in Week 41 of 2012. These figures do not include patients receiving vaccinations at retail clinics, pharmacies, schools, workplaces, and other settings.

 Figure 2. Proportion of Patients Receiving Flu Vaccination
(Historical vaccination rates increased slightly from last week’s post due to the addition of Medicare’s Q-codes (Q2033-Q2039) to our seasonal influenza vaccination code set.)

Other Areas Where the Shutdown Has Affected Disease Tracking

So far this fall, no major contagious disease outbreaks have occurred. However, there has been a multistate Salmonella outbreak traced to a chicken farm in California. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for inspecting meat, eggs and poultry products, is mostly up and running. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for produce and seafood, has furloughed 45% of its employees. Although FDA staff only inspect facilities once every few years, they do become involved in outbreaks for foods under their jurisdiction. Finally, the CDC is running with minimal staff, as we’ve previously mentioned, (some were recalled to address the Salmonella infections) and is responsible for coordinating surveillance between local, state and federal agencies. What does the shutdown portend for the alphabet soup of agencies? It means that gaps in public health monitoring may jeopardize public health by increasing the risk of poor communication and coordination in the wake of an outbreak.

We will continue to monitor the incidence of influenza across our network as long as CDC staff are furloughed. If you have any suggestions or comments — on the flu or other diseases where up-to-date data would be valuable — please leave a comment here or e-mail

Check out Josh Gray's Google+ Profile. Follow @JoshGray_HIT on Twitter.

Josh leads the athenaResearch team's efforts in mining athenahealth network data for insights into physician performance and the US health care system. 

View full profile and posts from author

Cloudview Blog

Ideas, insights and analysis to help physicians, medical groups and health systems stay informed and profitable in today's challenging health environment.

Latest from Twitter

Post your comment

These security checks help us prevent unauthorized access to your account.

Schedule an inside look

Thanks for your interest in athenahealth. We're excited to learn more about your practice.

* All fields required

We will never share your email without your permission. View our Privacy Policy or Terms Conditions.


Thanks! We'll be in touch soon!

In the meantime, please feel free to give us a call at 800.981.5084, explore the site or check out a video.


An error occurred

Please feel free to give us a call at 800.981.5084.

Request a live demo