Flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways, including the timing of the beginning, severity, and length of the flu season.
This flu season (2009-2010), there are more uncertainties than usual because of the emergence of a new 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (previously called "novel H1N1" or "swine flu") that has caused the first influenza pandemic (global outbreak of disease) in more than 40 years.
By Janis Graham
'Tis the season...for colds, flu, stomach bugs, and all those other ills that spread when people come together — whether by choice (at holiday parties) or circumstance (on airplanes). But don't start calculating your sick days just yet. This year you can do more than wash your hands and cross your fingers. Recent research, some of it sparked by the scary H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009, has uncovered new steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. Most...
Severity is uncertain. Many people do not have immune protection against this new and very different 2009 H1N1 virus, which has spread worldwide quickly and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Scientists believe the 2009 H1N1 virus – along with regular seasonal viruses – will cause illness, hospital stays, and deaths this flu season in the United States. There is concern that the 2009 H1N1 virus may cause the season to be worse than a regular flu season – with a lot more people getting sick, being hospitalized and dying than during a regular flu seasonal.
Timing is uncertain. In past years, seasonal flu activity typically did not reach its peak in the U.S. until January or February, but flu activity has occurred as late as May. However, the 2009 H1N1 virus caused illness, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S. during the summer months when influenza is very uncommon. So it is not known when flu activity will increase, when it will be most intense (peak), what viruses will circulate, or how long the season might last.
How is severity characterized?
The overall health impact (e.g., infections, hospitalizations and deaths) of a flu season varies from year to year. Based on available data from U.S. influenza surveillance systems monitored and reported by CDC, the severity of a flu season can be judged according to a variety of criteria, including:
The level of reported activity within each state;
The number and proportion of flu laboratory tests that are positive;
The proportion of visits to physicians for flu-like illness;
The proportion of all deaths that are caused by pneumonia and flu;
The number of flu-associated deaths among children; and
The flu-associated hospitalization rate among children and adults.