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athenaResearch Report: Flu Spreads West and North into Mountain States and Mid-Atlantic

by Iyue Sung, PhD, Director of athenaResearch

On December 24, we reported the first large jump in national flu rates for this season. Now, as the flu outbreak continues to travel across the country, we’ve decided to provide weekly reports until we see a peak in the flu. This week, we find an even steeper increase than last week, as seen in Figure 1 below.

Although southern states continue to be hit the hardest, Colorado now appears on the list of Top 10 Most Flu-Impacted States as seen in Table 1.

These higher intensity levels of the flu are now spreading further out across the country, as far north as the Dakotas and northern Montana, as illustrated on the map in Figure 2.

Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, 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). The Pacific coast, while not being hit as hard as the South, is actually seeing an earlier flu outbreak this year than last year. And in other parts of the country like New England, the flu is just beginning to ramp up. Given these consistent increases in flu diagnoses, it will be important to monitor how the flu radiates across the country over the coming weeks.

What we can expect in future weeks
As we saw last week, this year’s flu pattern appears to be very similar to last year’s, but with a two week lag (see Table 2). But this past week, we saw a difference: a sharper jump (to the 1.12% rate in Table 2) , driven by a flu outbreak in the West that’s occurring earlier than last year.

As mentioned in our last report, we typically see increased flu activity after Thanksgiving and Christmas, so this jump may in part be due to Thanksgiving travel. But with the post-Christmas surge coming soon, this flu season may not have peaked yet.

We said it last week and we’ll say it again: Get your flu shot! Make it a New Year’s resolution. And be sure to practice good flu hygiene to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Be sure to check back here for more athenaResearch flu updates over the coming weeks. And have a safe, happy, and healthy 2014!

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

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