A new model suggests that this winter the flu season in the United States will most likely reach its highest point in February.
Using mathematical representations of how influenza spreads in the U.S., along with information from past flues and the most recent data on the current flu season, researchers have developed a model that estimates how the season of influenza will pan out in the following months.
Based on the new model, there is a twenty percent chance that the flu season will peak in January, and only a one percent chance that it will peak before the month of January. However, the possibility for the flu season to peak in February is fifty-seven percent, the researchers found.
Dave Osthus, leader of the flu forecast project and a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said that February would be quite late for the flu season to peak, since over the past three years the flu season always peaked in December.
According to the model, this year the flu season will also be milder than in previous years. That means that there will be fewer influenza cases.
Osthus said that when flu seasons peak earlier they are a lot more intense, compared with when they peak later. During the 2015-2016 flu season, the researchers plan on updating their prognoses every two weeks. They will assess how well their model worked at the end of the flu season, according to Osthus.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist and a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Health Security, said that flu season predictions are extremely helpful because they guide people in the upcoming season. For instance, later-peaking seasons give people the chance to get vaccinated in time.
Even mild season of influenza can lead to a lot of illnesses, which is why they should not be taken lightly, according to Dr. Adalja. Thousands of Americans die each year during the flu season, he added.
Osthus shares the same opinion, and also recommends people to get their flu shot. ‘Mild season’ is a term that refers to the number of people who get sick with influenza, and not to the severity of the flu (that can vary from individual to individual), Osthus noted.
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