Is the 2017-2018 Flu Season Worse Than Others?

A quick online search would make you think that this years’ flu season is substantially worse than any other flu season in history. Every major news organization in the United States has weekly headlines about the severity of the flu this year.

The real question: what does the reliable, empirical data show?

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) is tasked with determining the effectiveness of disease prevention and control methods in the U.S. The CDC has been working with researchers at universities and hospitals since the 2003-2004 flu season to estimate how well flu vaccine works through observational studies using medically attended laboratory-confirmed flu as the outcome.

The most recent data reveals a “substantial” flu season!

On February 16, 2018, the CDC released a report that said “Influenza activity in the United States began to increase in early November 2017 and rose sharply from December through February 3, 2018. Influenza illness this season has been substantial, with some of the highest levels of influenza-like illness and hospitalization rates in recent years. Elevated influenza activity is expected to continue for several more weeks. With several more weeks of elevated influenza activity expected, and the potential to prevent significant illness through influenza vaccination, CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination at this time.”

How does this year compare to others?

A closer look at the data over the past ten years reveals that there have been years with a relatively low percentage of influenza visits and other years with a relatively high percentage of influenza visits; 2017-2018 falls into the relatively high category.

  • In 2011-2012 and 2015-2016, less than 4% of physician office and emergency room visits were for patients experiencing flu-like symptoms. A majority of these cases were reported between December and February
  • In 2014-2015 and 2016-2017, 5% – 6% of physician office and emergency room visits were for patients experiencing flu-like symptoms. A majority of these cases were reported between late December and early February.
  • In 2009-2010, nearly 8% of physician office and emergency room visits were for patients experiencing flu-like symptoms. This flu season was particularly short with the majority of cases being reported in November and December
  • The 2017-2018 flu season began to peak during the last week of November and continues to remain high as we move into March. The most recent numbers indicate that more than 8% of physician office and emergency room visits were for patients experiencing flu-like symptoms.

The bottom line is that this years’ flu season appears to be longer and worse than others in the past ten years.

Capstone Healthcare Staffing will continue to monitor the data and let you know when the final numbers for this flu season have been released.

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