Get That Vaccine, It's Going to Be a Bad Flu Year

200910131005-1 Map: International Co-circulation of 2009 H1N1 and Seasonal Influenza (As of October 9, 2009; posted October 9, 2009, 3:00 PM ET)

All signs point to a bad flu year and it’s going to be primarily from H1N1 (swine flu). H1N1 now accounts for over 50% of the fu cases around the world. The CDC map above shows the spread of the virus across the world.

Google Flu Trends tracks flu-related search queries (Radar post). It is also showing a dramatic increase this year for the US (data):

google flu trends october 2009

Google just expanded Flu Trends to include 16 countries and 37 languages.

If the maps and trend lines aren’t scary enough here’s the CDC’s update:

Visits to doctors for influenza-like illness (ILI) continued to increase in the United States, and overall, are higher than levels expected for this time of the year.

Total influenza hospitalization rates for laboratory-confirmed influenza are higher than expected for this time of year for adults and children. And for children 5-17 and adults 18-49 years of age, hospitalization rates from April – October 2009 exceed average flu season rates (for October through April).

The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) based on the 122 Cities Report has increased and now exceeds what is normally expected at this time of year. In addition, 19 flu-related pediatric deaths were reported this week; 16 of these deaths were confirmed 2009 H1N1 and 3 were unsubtyped influenza A and likely to be 2009 H1N1. A total of 76 laboratory confirmed 2009 H1N1 pediatric deaths have been reported to CDC since April.

Thirty-seven states are reporting widespread influenza activity at this time. They are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. Any reports of widespread influenza activity in September and October are very unusual.

Almost all of the influenza viruses identified so far are 2009 H1N1 influenza A viruses. These viruses remain similar to the virus chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and remain susceptible to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir with rare exception.

You can also track the Flu (and many other diseases) at Health Map which uses news feeds, government data and user reports as data inputs. You can observe and report flu outbreaks to Health Map via their iPhone app. Rhiza Labs Flu Tracker has a variety of flu-related visualizations including H1N1 cases by county and cumulative number of cases.

There are two vaccines that are circulating in the US. The “regular” vaccine has already landed. The H1N1 vaccine is available to healthcare workers, but does not seem to be widely available yet (at least not in the Seattle region). For more information on the vaccine check the CDC’s info page.

(Hat tip to Ramez Naam for the CDC map)

  • You can sign up for e-mail and SMS alerts when the H1N1 vaccine is available in your area at

  • Follow @FluGov on Twitter for official flu updates from CDC.

  • Luke

    Google flu trends shows the trend of flu-related searches, not actual flu cases. I would interpret the results more in term of a huge media-induced panic than of real threats. Many other known and curable diseases are causing far more victims than swine flu, and no one seems to really care. I had the Swine myself, it’s no more than a normal mild flu. Sometimes I’m inclined to think that the whole thing is about scaring the rich western people to make them or their goverments pay for medicines and vaccines.
    I’m not saying that we should not monitor Swine Flu, but just that maybe we should revise our priorities about contagious diseases…

  • Luke

    if you don’t agree with me that the Google Flu Trends scaring figure is more about panic than actual flu cases, just give a look at the same search trend for scandinavian or other european countries, like here:
    As soon as the media coverage decreased, the bubble burst… if people were suffering from exceptional flu cases, the search pattern would be significantly higher even after the hype.

  • Shawn Bedard

    Hell NO! I’ll take my chances!

  • You should read this article from The Atlantic, “Does the Vaccine Matter?”

    Perhaps everything we thing we know about flu vaccines is wrong.

    Don’t everything you read, either, I haven’t fact checked The Atlantic’s article.

  • Luke: Google flu trends is based primarily on searches for flu symptoms, not high-frequency media terms like H1N1. shows a remarkably strong correlation for the U.S.

    There is certainly some excess panic and hyperbole about swine flu, but I’m curious what contagious diseases you think deserve higher priority than influenza.

  • Ciara

    Some of us would -love- to get vaccinated this year, but with things like reduced pay at work & cut hours thanks to the economy, no health insurance and the sheer price of getting the vaccine, it’s simply not an option anyway.

  • Trevor Stone wrote,

    There is certainly some excess panic and hyperbole about swine flu, but I’m curious what contagious diseases you think deserve higher priority than influenza.

    Good question; but if I may, break it down a little:

    -assumes that Luke (and I) agree there needs to be infrastructure, primed and ready, to respond to a ‘contagious disease’ outbreak.

    -that this process is or – through the practice of it – could be effective.

    I think there is a great deal of doubt as to whether the infrastructure this genuflection is intended to build will be able to produce specific vaccines from year to year in enough quantity to be effective – and because of the way the disease morphs as it circles the planet it is doubtful the vaccines produced in this process are specific enough to have effect.

    Michael Holloway

  • Now that the hysteria and my counter-hysteria has wained a bit, I notice the point of the article – that map technology is gorgeous!

    I wonder how much the data has been tweaked by emerging technology – especially the always-on?

    I’ve noticed that the map contains very little data. Percent increases are only interesting if they’re accompanied by total cases over several years.

    The graph is a great graph of hysteria.

    The piece was, and had to be finely balanced – nice job.


  • This is a link to an example some amazing mapping technology I found at Youtube channel OhioStateExperts. Using Google mapping and DNA data of the H1N1 09, N5N1 and common influenza data. Dr. Daniel Janies, professor of Biomedical Informatics suggests a different set of policies is in the offing – moving away from pharmaceuticals.


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