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Flu Picking Up Steam in the South

by Matt Nix, Manager, Core Analytics

When the recent U.S. government shutdown led to a furlough that halted the invaluable work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our athenaResearch team stepped in and reported flu activity to the public via our blog. After the CDC resumed their weekly reports, we stopped posting updates, but continued tracking the flu. In the process, we have noticed some activity worth sharing: National flu levels remain low, but we are seeing signs of an onset of the flu season in several regions, particularly in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

The elevated rate of flu diagnosis for this region corresponds to increasing rates in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. This is consistent with the most recent data published by the CDC’s FluView and roughly corresponds to the same point in last November’s flu season, when these three states started to show signs of an outbreak.

On a national scale, the rate of flu diagnoses is increasing at a steady but slow level; the exception is the uptick seen in the South.

Last year, we saw the flu outbreak spread from the South to the rest of the country in a matter of weeks, as shown in the maps below. If this flu season takes a sharp turn similar to last year’s, we should see the peak occur soon after January 1, and perhaps with a similar geographic dispersion.

We certainly can’t predict when or if the flu will radiate from the Southeast again, though we think the next few weeks will be critical. Last year, media coverage raised enough awareness to result in a second wave of immunization in January, but only after the flu season had already peaked.

We are now past the height of flu vaccination for the 2013-2014 season and have seen strong vaccination activity compared to last year, so we are hopeful this will contribute to a safer public. With much of the country traveling this week for Thanksgiving and again in December, now is a great time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already.

We will continue to monitor this situation as it develops over the coming weeks, and will report any changes as they occur. Be sure to monitor the athenahealth blog , and the weekly report from our friends at the CDC to stay current on the situation. Have a safe, happy, and flu-free Thanksgiving!

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