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athenaResearch Report: Flu Hits Tipping Point This Holiday Season

by Josh Gray, VP of athenaResearch

As we shared with you just before Thanksgiving the athenaResearch team has been monitoring the nation’s flu activity, based on data from more than 16,000 primary care providers on the athenahealth network. Since then, we had been seeing flu rates slowly and steadily moving upward; then, this past week, we saw a sizable spike, as shown in Figure 1.

Since Thanksgiving, we have seen a high incidence of the flu spread from the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi in all directions across additional states, as illustrated on the map in Figure 2.

Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and other key southern and Gulf Coast states have already been hit particularly hard, in a pattern that’s similar to the one seen during last year’s difficult flu season (as seen in Figure 3). Other adjacent states, such as North Carolina, are still seeing low flu rates, but the numbers are beginning to ramp steeply. With this development, it will be important to monitor how the flu radiates across these states over the next several weeks.

What we can expect in future weeks
As you can see in Figures 1 and 3, this year’s flu pattern looks very similar to last year’s, with a two week lag (see Table 1). By looking at the 2012-2013 numbers, we get a hint of what we might see for the rates of flu diagnoses in the coming weeks.

Adding to this rapid rise in flu rates are the fact that people head home for the holidays, many of them traveling across the country and potentially spreading the flu further. As you can expect, we typically see increased flu activity in the weeks following both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and this will be an additional factor to keep an eye on this year.

Please get your flu shot. And be sure to practice good flu hygiene this holiday season to keep you and your loved ones safe. Even getting coal in your stocking is better than getting the flu!

Check out Josh Gray's Google+ Profile. Follow @JoshGray_HCIT 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. 

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