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Three Things to Know About Flu Forecasting

A data-driven approach to predicting outbreaks could be good news for at-risk patients.

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1. Modern flu forecasting means real-time data.

Flusight” from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, offers real-time data – and real world data - on the Flusight website. Instead of measuring flu activity after the fact, flu forecasting uses gathered information to look ahead, like a weather forecast. In particular, Flusight serves those responsible for safeguarding public health, including healthcare facilities, public health leaders and the biotech industry, which produces and supplies vaccines. Because flu strains vary year to year, it’s especially helpful to know what’s happening during the current flu season.

More advanced forecasting makes sense because, unlike a typical cold, influenza is a global healthcare concern that can be deadly, especially for people with health or age factors that increase the risk of complications. People who have primary immunodeficiency diseases (PI), a collection of more than 350 rare diseases, are particularly at risk because their bodies are less able to fight infections. 

2. Swiftly delivered information can spark action that limits the spread.

This forecasting approach, part of the Epidemic Prediction Initiative, offers “the possibility to look into the future and better plan ahead, potentially reducing the impact of flu,” according to the CDC. Healthcare facilities can prepare for more patients. Public health officials could sound the call for more flu vaccinations and even recommend school closures, when warranted. The general public could take precautions, such as more vigilant handwashing and avoiding contact with those who are ill.

Of all these actions, getting vaccinated is especially important, said Dr. Gregg Sylvester, Chief Medical Officer at Seqirus, CSL’s flu business that develops and manufactures influenza vaccines.

“Predicting the potential impact of influenza can help reinforce the importance of vaccination – which the CDC has underscored as the best way to help protect against influenza,” Sylvester said.

3. People who have compromised immune systems welcome better tools for predicting influenza outbreaks.

No one wants the flu. But someone who has immune system problems really wants to avoid influenza, a virus that during the 2018-2019 season caused at least half a million hospitalizations in the United States alone, according to estimates.

Immune Deficiency Foundation President & CEO John G. Boyle called Flusight “an important advancement that holds great promise to help both patients and physicians minimize the impact of this annual challenge.” Boyle and the IDF represent thousands of patients who have primary immunodeficiency diseases. Some, not all, PI patients are medically able to receive the flu vaccine, Boyle said.

“They especially rely on those around them - at home, at work, at school and in their communities - to get vaccinated as well. ‘Community immunity’ is an important concept that gives all of us a better chance at remaining healthy,” he said.