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athenaResearch Weekly Flu Report: Pediatric Flu Rates Continue to Climb in the South and Midwest

by Josh Gray, VP of athenaResearch

Last week, we noted a rise in national influenza-like illness (ILI) rates across the athenahealth cloud-based network, based on roughly one million patient visits to 20,000 primary care providers and 2,500 pediatricians. The steep increase continued this past week ending Saturday, December 20, with overall rates running higher than last year’s peak, and tracking closely with the more severe 2012-2013 flu season.

Pediatric ILI rates have actually now surpassed the 2012-2013 peak, running at 10.4% of all visits to pediatricians (See Figure 1; ILI rates reflect the percent of all visits to physicians with a diagnosis of ILI). Regionally, the highest ILI rates are evident in the South and Midwest (shown in Figure 2) with pediatric rates in the Midwest now running at 11.3% of all visits, well above the peak levels seen in 2012-2013 — and showing no signs of abating. Although flu rates in the Northeast and the West are lower, they too are on an upward trajectory. The CDC has noted that about half the samples of this year’s predominant H3N2 virus have shown signs of antigenic drift, suggesting lower vaccine effectiveness this season, and thus a higher ILI rate. We will continue to report out on the flu at the start of each week. In addition, please look for a post later this week on how the CDC’s recommendations for prescribing antiviral therapy may be influencing physician practice patterns. And it’s still not too late to get a flu shot! Make it a New Year’s resolution.

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.

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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