The Flu Report: 11/19/14 November 19, 2014 By Cait Hartwyk Leave a Comment Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map. Once again, we are seeing an uptick in flu cases as we progress into flu season. However, unlike previous weeks, we are seeing some regional changes as well as a rise in flu-related deaths that puts the nation almost at the epidemic threshold. Overview: The biggest news of the week is that the number of flu-related deaths has nearly reached the ‘epidemic threshold.’ Please note that the word “epidemic” in this context is less sinister than it may sound, as this measure is widely used as an important indicator for influenza spread. The CDC defines a flu epidemic by the percentage of deaths caused by influenza or pneumonia, and the threshold is then set at a certain percentage above what is considered normal during that period. Simply put, instead of counting flu cases (which can be extremely difficult to track since not everyone who comes down with the flu will actually visit a doctor), the CDC has chosen to use mortality as the key indicator of flu spread. This week has also marked a shift in where influenza is spreading the most. HHS Region 10, an area covering Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, had the highest percentage of flu cases reported, based on samples received in laboratories. For most of flu season to date, the South has seen the highest amounts of flu activity, so this shift marks the first time a different area of the US has lead the nation in flu spread. Flu cases in Region 10 have been slowly rising over the last few weeks, and the reasons for this increase could include more contact between infected individuals and a lack of immunity due to low vaccination rates in parts of the region. No specific reason for the increase has been given by the CDC, however. That being said, the American South still leads the nation for actual number of flu cases with more than 1,400 reported over the last three weeks, more than double that seen in any other region. Whether this trend will continue is unknown, especially since newly reported flu cases in the area have been declining over the last two weeks. By the Numbers: In the United States, the CDC has reported: Flu Cases (Laboratory Confirmed) – 678 (7.4% of specimens tested) Influenza A – 567 (83.6%) Influenza B – 111 (16.4%) Flu-related Deaths (Percentage) – 6.0% (0.3% below epidemic threshold) NOTE: Flu cases, as referenced above, are confirmed cases in people who have gone to see medical professionals. Percentage estimates, referenced in the “Overview” section, include these documented cases from medical professionals but also a variety of other self-reported metrics. As flu season progresses, more up to date information will become available. Around the World: Although the United States is still listed as having a low concentration of flu cases, both Canada and Mexico are listed as moderate. Influenza seems to be spreading at a higher rate throughout the Northern Hemisphere, according to Google Flu Trends. Russia and Austria have both returned to moderate ratings, and most of Western Europe is moving closer to this level as well. Staying Healthy: Our tip for this week: Use proper germ containment. If you are sneezing, be sure to use a tissue, and, if you are coughing, cover your mouth with your elbow, not your hands. These simple measures can help contain the germs that spread the flu and can keep you and those around you healthy. Also, be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often. For additional help and flu advice, contact a Passport Health flu professional at 1-888-499-PASS (7277) and we’ll help you schedule your flu vaccination today. The Flu Report is a weekly blog post designed to give updates on the spread of influenza throughout the year. It is posted every Wednesday and focuses on regional outbreaks, global spread and ways to avoid infection.