With no CDC flu surveillance, private firm provides flu data

Oct. 12, 2013 at 1:57 AM
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WATERTOWN, Mass., Oct. 12 (UPI) -- With the U.S. government shutdown and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly flu monitoring halted, athenaResearch is providing flu data.

With the CDC flu trackers furloughed and no "FluView," a weekly report that public health officials and doctors rely on to track whether flu is circulating heavily, a private company providing its flu-related data.

"We were uncomfortable with the prospect of no national surveillance," Josh Gray, vice president of athenaResearch, a unit of athenahealth Inc. in Watertown, Mass., told the Wall Street Journal. "It's going dark at a critical period when flu is starting to ramp up."

Athenahealth, a provider of electronic health records and other technologies, is putting out weekly flu reports based on data from about 600,000 patient visits a week to a network of about 15,000 primary care providers in 49 states, Gray told the WSJ.

Using cloud-based software, "we can track what's going on in their practices in near real time," he said.

Incidence of flu diagnoses changed little from week 39 to week 40 from Sept. 30 - Oct. 6 -- about 4.4 in 10,000 patients seeing primary care physicians were diagnosed with influenza. That compared to 3.7 per 10,000 last week and 3.6 per 10,000 at this time last year, Gray said.

"We also saw no discernible signs of a significant outbreak per region," Gray said.

In addition, during week 40, 11.8 percent of patients who visited a primary care physician received a flu vaccination, up from 9.5 percent during week 39 and 10.6 percent in the same week of 2012.

These figures only reflect visits to primary care physicians, and do not include patients getting flu shot at retail clinics, pharmacies, schools, the workplace, and other settings, Gray said.

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