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Five Ways of Looking at the Flu Season

This year’s flu season is unusually intense, and literally off the charts—well, Google’s Flu Indicator chart at least, which tracks what people are searching for and uses it to predict the severity of the flu season. Hopefully it will remain not very deadly, however.

Everyone’s freaking out about the flu season this year, from the Tribune

Dr. David Zich said the influx of flu patients is the worst he has seen in 12 years. The internal and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital called bypass status “unusual but not extremely rare.”

“It does happen maybe 14 times a year,” Zich said. “We like to minimize it as much as possible.”

To NYMag: “And guess what? It’s only going to get worse.” The Google Flu Trends indicator—Google looks at searches and uses them to predict flu intensity, something that’s worked out well in the past—definitely looks bad:

And the trendline for our state is somewhere past “intense” (2009-10 was not just an early flu season, but a deadly one):

The graph for Chicago is similar:

So that’s worse. The CDC’s percentage of visits for influenza-like illnesses for Region 5 (us and nearby states) wasn’t up to 2009-10 levels as of the end of the year, but it was rising (2012-13 is on the right):

It’s definitely the worst season since 2009. But this graph of pediatric mortality from the flu is more encouraging:

The deaths of 18 children has gotten attention, and it’s something people should be concerned about, but the average number per year since 2004-2005 has been 100 (nationwide), with a low of 34 last year.


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