For the week ended Jan. 19, flu incidence was predominant in the central United States and picking up across the West Coast. According to data provided through the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network, 4.3% of patient visits reported through the network were due to influenza-like illness, above the national baseline of 2.2%.
At this time last year, the conversation was all about the flu season that never materialized. Only one week in January last year did flu-like incidence rise above the 2.2% national baseline, and then only slightly. So cough-cold and flu comparisons across the front-end and pharmacy were both projected to be double-digit positive if even there were a moderate flu season this year.
But this season is a monster. Excepting the 2009/2010 H1N1 pandemic season, the last time there were this many people reporting flu symptoms was eight years ago. For the four weeks ended Dec. 30 (and before this year's flu incidence peak), sales of hand sanitizers were up 15.4% to $14.4 million; sales of personal thermometers were up 35.8% to $17.9 million; sales of cold and allergy liquid formulations were up 27.4% to $133 million; and sales of cold and allergy tablets were up 7.9% to $352 million (data courtesy SymphonyIRI Group across all channels). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Jan. 18, 133.5 million doses of flu vaccine has been distributed out of the 145 million manufacturers projected would be produced this season. And the Food and Drug Administration took measures to ensure adequate supply of Tamiflu for both adults and children.
And there are still two months of flu season to go.
As of Jan. 19, the flu was still going strong in Texas, the Lone Star State, along with every state that borders Texas. In Washington, California and Oregon, the consensus is that flu incidence has yet to peak. Minnesota reported that more flu deaths have been recorded this season than when H1N1 ran its pandemic course. And on an unrelated front, an Australian stomach flu culprit norovirus called GII.4 Sydney has supplanted GII.4 New Orleans as the predominant strain causing food poisoning in the U.S.
All in all, this is the sickest winter we will have had in years, and that's big business for retail pharmacy.