DSN Flu Tracker: Illustrating the 2012-2013 season

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The Northeast was hit particularly hard early in January with both Boston and New York declaring flu “emergencies.” As the weeks progressed, the severity of the flu was easy to track westward on this map, which as of late January, was most severe across the West Coast.

Since the start of the season, influenza A, or H3N2, viruses have predominated nationally. Seasons when influenza A, or H3N2, is the most common strain are typically more severe.

While the current season has been winding down since Jan. 26, that doesn’t mean it’s over yet. Influenza-like illness can remain above the national baseline straight through the first week of April, as it did in the 2007-2008 season.

Seasonal influenza always takes the heaviest toll on seniors, particularly during seasons when H3N2 is the predominant strain. The CDC estimated about 90% of flu-related deaths this year were in people 65 years and older.

Bayer has been promoting its Alka Seltzer Plus remedies with a plug that resonates with many employees — “The Cold Truth: Your inbox won’t show you any mercy.”

Tylenol Cold is making its comeback to the marketplace. But private label still dominates this category. Of note — homeopathic manufacturer Hyland’s is making a steady climb up the Top 10 ladder, as is Prestige Brands’ Pediacare, which recently launched PediaCare Cold & Flu Hydration, designed to ensure children get needed fluids and electrolytes when they’re sick.

Prestige Brands at the top of the season brought some life to its Luden’s brand with the introduction of Luden’s Moisture Drops. And it’s worked. Sales across all Luden’s products are up 11.4%.

Cough syrup is a popular cold and cough solution that Mom buys for her kids. Notice the growth of Similasan and Hyland’s — homeopathic remedies are staking a strong claim within the kids cough-cold set.

Come cough-cold season, tissues earn that secondary placement right alongside cold and flu remedies in the OTC aisles.

Humidifiers is another category with a deceptive sales decline. Kaz Vicks dominates that market, and their sales are in line with the rest of cough/cold — up 10.8%.

Nasal sprays are still a commoditized category dominated by store brands though the sales base is relatively stable.

Though sales are flat, expect big things from Carma Labs, maker of Carmex. The company celebrated its 75th anniversary last year and awarded $75,000 to the winner of a Carmex sweepstakes. That winner was mobbed by LeBron James in celebration after making a half-court heave at a recent Miami Heat game.

Sales of thermometers may be flat during this monster of a cold and flu season. But this is a category with a low purchase incidence — once Mom buys a thermometer for her firstborn she may not have a new need to purchase another thermometer for that baby’s younger siblings.

This is an “old school” way to help relieve sinus congestion, which suggests some of Grandma’s cold remedies are timeless, as the category is up 16%.

Don’t let the ever-so-slight growth fool you. What was once a highly commoditized category is being reinvented by GoJo and its launch of Purell Advanced.

There were more sick people cruising the cold relief aisles this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu incidence peaked at 6.1% this season, making this season the most virulent since the 2007-2008 season — excepting the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, which was atypical. With that in mind, sales of cough and cold medicines — or sales of just about anything else that had something to do with the flu, from hand sanitizers to flu shots — were through the roof.

For more coverage of the current 2012-2013 flu season, check out the DSN Special Report here.