The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

November 6, 2012

Flu off to quick start in 2012-13

OTTUMWA — The 2012-2013 flu season seems to be off to a faster start than last year, though it is unclear whether that will make for a longer season.

The worst recent season was in 2009, when the H1N1 flu reached epidemic levels in October. The season usually peaks between January and March.

The Centers for Disease Control publishes weekly updates for flu in the United States. The catch is that those figures lag behind the trends. The official numbers come from actual flu tests as reported to federal authorities. The lag is at least a week.

Google attempts to better the federal figures by counting flu-related queries in its search engine. It's not official, but it makes sense. When people feel bad, they look for ways to feel better. One of those ways is by searching for information online. And Google's projections tend to be reasonably accurate.

There is a difference between the two counts. And the data on the CDC website is sometimes contradictory.

The CDC's FluView interactive map shows Iowa with "minimal" activity. But that's not surprising. Only one state, Louisiana, is even shown as having low activity. Another CDC map, one based on the week ending October 27, shows Iowa with "local" flu outbreaks, a higher level than Louisiana's "sporadic" designation.

The Iowa Department of Public Health puts flu activity at the "local" level, also based on data for the week ending October 27.

Google's map also shows Iowa with low flu activity, but puts more states in the higher categories. As with the CDC, Louisiana tops the map with high flu activity. But 21 states fall into Google's moderate category, including three (Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri) that border Iowa.

Google's estimate puts activity ahead of where it was last year, but well below the levels seen in the 2009-2010 flu epidemic. There are echoes of that year, though. The CDC says the most common version of the flu so far this season is Type A, followed by Type B. The H1N1 flu that knocked out so many people three years ago also shows up in the data.

The best recommendations remain the same, regardless of which flu shows up. Get a flu shot. Wash your hands frequently. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. And, if you're unlucky enough to get the flu, stay home and rest.

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