How Bad Is the Flu This Year

January 16, 2019

bad flu year blog Denver Health
With a high number of reported flu cases in Colorado this season and plenty of people calling in sick to school and work, we wanted to answer a question that we know a lot of you probably have – "just how serious is the flu this season?" For the answer, we asked our infectious disease doctor, Heather Young, MD. Here's what she said:

There are a number of ways that you can quantify whether it’s a “bad” flu season or not.

The total number of cases is one way to determine how many community members have flu, but that isn’t the whole story. Not everyone who has the flu seeks medical care, so the number of positive tests may underestimate the true amount of influenza. There are also times where physicians diagnose influenza based on symptoms without doing any testing.

Another way to look at the amount of circulating influenza is by the percentage of outpatient visits (patients who are not admitted to the hospital) that are due to influenza-like illnesses. Colorado health care providers are seeing a lot of influenza-like illnesses, with around 7.5 percent of outpatient visits being for influenza-like illnesses. This is compared to a baseline rate of approximately 2.2 percent outside of the influenza season.

Finally, you can quantify the severity of a flu season by the deaths associated with influenza and/or pneumonia. Nationally, deaths from influenza and/or pneumonia are not particularly high but this may change as the season goes on.

In summary, there is a lot of influenza circulating in Colorado right now as evidenced by our high percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illnesses. Thus far, it does not appear that many people have died from influenza but this could change as time goes on.