Forecasting the flu is a challenge. Here’s why

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[F]or the third week in a row, flu activity remains widespread in 49 states, according to the latest CDC data. Some 6.6 percent of patients visiting the doctor now have flu-like symptoms, the highest rate since 2009.

One, this is turning into a really aggressive flu season. Two, CDC data is far from a perfect predictor of how bad a flu season will be, let alone how bad it already is. The CDC bases its “Flu View” reports and predictions on physician records that report “influenza-like illnesses” among patients. That means there’s about a six-day gap between the ground truth and the CDC’s best understanding of it.

Since 2013, the influenza division at the CDC has been working to improve its forecasting methodologies.

On a beta website, the agency posts flu forecasts based on their work. This year, for the first time ever, the CDC is sponsoring a “State FluSight challenge,” asking states to submit public records of influenza-like illness. In the past, the CDC has only ever charted national and regional flu trends.

The CDC might also be capable of making better recommendations for controlling pandemics, or mass outbreaks in localized areas. “If you close a school after the peak, you haven’t really done much to stop the spread of flu,” [epidemiologist Matt] Biggerstaff says. “But if you close on the uptick, you can have a much bigger impact.”

Read full, original post: Why It’s So Hard to Forecast the Flu

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