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This year’s flu season is bad. It started earlier and it has hit harder than previous flu seasons, according to the CDC. Twenty-nine states are reporting high levels of flu-like illness, while nine states are reporting more moderate levels.
If you studied the weather conditions, you might already have known that. Health scientists are using rainfall, temperature, and other data to forecast diseases such as the flu, according to the Associated Press.
Two scientists have said in a published study that they could forecast the peak of flu season by as much as seven weeks in advance, AP said. They looked at past weather and flu data and examined how the flu spreads when the weather is cold and the air is dry, according to AP. Their calculations included Google Flu Trends, http://www.google.org/flutrends which tracks how many people are looking for information on topics related to the flu, AP said.
A CDC official was quoted as saying the research is “exciting,” but she wants to see how the model does in predicting flu trends in places other than New York, which was the site of the study. One Harvard professor of infectious diseases was a little more cautious of models that use weather to predict disease trends. “I'm not sure any of them are ready for prime time,” he said.
In the meantime, any members of your staff who have not yet received their flu vaccine should roll up their sleeves, according to the CDC. Your employees have fewer excuses now. An exhaustive influenza report concluded that “the currently licensed influenza vaccines in the United States are among the safest of all available vaccines,” according to our sister blog, HICprevent. The report by the University of Minnesota states that “while unique adverse events can occur with use of these vaccines, such events are extremely rare. Given the level of safety of the current influenza vaccines, it will be challenging for new influenza vaccines to match or exceed the current safety profile.” (For more on vaccinations, see these Hospital Report blog postings: “CDC declares early start to flu season, while vaccination rates lag” and “Want to boost your employee flu vaccination rate? Require it.”)
So there you have it. The vaccine is safe, and based on recent flu activity, it could be seen as a necessity. Sort of like remembering your umbrella when rain is predicted. Be prepared.