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Flu Season Striking Early this Holiday Season

by Iyue Sung, PhD, Director of athenaResearch

As many of us prepare to spend time with family and friends this week, you may want to think twice about sharing that slice of pumpkin pie with mom, or shaking hands with your brother-in-law β€” flu season has arrived.

Last week, we reported early signs of the flu season, based on patient visit data from the athenahealth cloud-based network. We track approximately one million visits per week to 20,000 primary care providers around the country who are on our EHR. Because athenahealth is a cloud based software and services provider, we are able to report on disease trends around the country with minimal delay. Our latest data (for the week ending Saturday, November 22nd) shows that influenza-like illness (ILI) rates are beginning to rise across the country (Figure 1). Figure 2 shows that the increase is particularly high among children (birth-18). The percent of visits to pediatricians with a diagnosis of ILI increased from 2.8% to 3.5% last week alone. As a result, flu is more widespread among children this year than last and rapidly approaching rates seen in the difficult flu season of 2012-2013. Among adults, flu is climbing most in the Midwest region, where we’re seeing a climb similar to that during the 2012-2013 season (Figure 3). > Continuing with data from the Midwest, pediatric rates of ILI run substantially higher than that of general population: 2.8% of pediatric visits in the week ended November 22 had a diagnosis of flu more than three times as high as the 0.8% rate seen with adults (Figure 4). Pediatric ILI rates are trending highest in the South, where for the week ending November 22, rates reached 4.5%, up from 3.2% the previous week. Pediatric ILI visit rates peaked at 11.5% during the 2012-2013 flu season (Figure 5). We wish you all safe travels this Thanksgiving week β€” but we also encourage everyone to keep in mind that influenza should not be taken lightly, particularly with the young and elderly. Please get vaccinated.

We will monitor our data and provide flu updates throughout the holidays. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome and may be directed to, or to @IyueSung or @JoshGray_HIT on Twitter.

athenaResearch analyst Stewart Richardson generated the analysis for this report.

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

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