Flu hospitalizations highest this decade, CDC reports
There has been little abatement in the flu season this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday morning. The CDC added that illness related to influenza-like activity climbed to 7.1% nationwide and hospitalizations related to the flu has been the highest recorded this decade.
“This is a very difficult season, the hospitalization rate is the highest that we’ve seen,” Anne Schuchat, CDC acting director, said. “We aren’t out of the woods yet, but there are steps everyone can take to fight the flu.”
Schuchat advised parents to be pro-active in taking their children to the pediatrician if they being monitoring one of several “worrisome” signs. “It’s so important for people to speak to their healthcare provider about their child, but in general worrisome signs are very high, persistent fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, rapid heart beat or shallow rapid breathing or significant tiredness or confusion,” she said. “In very young children, those kinds of symptoms are going to be difficult to assess. We really do think a call to the pediatrician or the nurse hotline is very important.”
The virulent season this year has certainly caught the industry off guard with reports of spot shortages of the anti-viral Tamiflu and flu tests. “We continue to hear reports of crowded hospitals and sport shortages of antiviral medications and rapid influenza tests,” Schuchat said. “Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate that flu activity is still high and widespread across of the nation and increasing overall.”
In addition, the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday warned of continued shortages of IV saline bags that’s being exasperated by the high hospitalizations associated with this year’s flu. “We recognize that managing the thousands of flu-related hospitalizations has increased the demand for certain saline products – which are commonly used to both hydrate and deliver medications via intravenous routes,” Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner, said in a release issued Thursday. “As we’ve shared over the past several months, across the country, there remains a shortage of IV saline bags, which have long faced supply issues. These supply issues were worsened by the impact of Hurricane Maria on the medical products manufacturing sector in Puerto Rico, which impacted small volume IV bags. Although the saline shortage is improving, this year’s worse-than-normal flu season and workarounds deployed by health care providers in the wake of this shortage have increased demand for saline and other products.”
In light of widespread reports that this year’s flu vaccines are not matching well with the prevalent H3N2 strain this year, the CDC is still recommending people get their flu shot this year if they have not done so already. “Even though we know most flu vaccines have low effectiveness against H3N2 viruses [the strain that’s predominant this season], effectiveness against other flu viruses is better and there is more than just one flu virus circulating this season,” Schuchat said. “The vaccine may also reduce the severity of symptoms if you catch the flu in spite of being vaccinated. And it’s not too late to get the vaccine.”
Cold busters: New products tout prevention, relief
Gojo Keeps Hands Clean Beyond Sanitizer
Recently, Gojo expanded its Purell brand of products with the launch of Purell Healthy Soap and Purell Multi-Surface Disinfectant. Purell Healthy Soaps are specially formulated mild lotion soaps with natural moisturizers that the company said can leave skin healthier than regular soap. Gojo also touts Healthy Soap’s ability to nourish the skin while cleaning to support the skin’s natural ability to protect against dirt and germs, as well as its status as a USDA Certified Biobased product. Fellow newcomer Purell Multi-Surface Disinfectant is one of 10 disinfectants to receive the EPA’s Category IV lowest toxicity rating. Of the 10, it has the fastest overall disinfection times for bacteria and viruses than any other disinfectant product, Gojo noted.
Sambucol Gets Gummy
Pharmacare has extended its lineup of black elderberry products with the launch of Sambucol Gummies. The gummies are pectin-based, naturally sweetened with no artificial colors, and are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, the company said. Pharmacare noted that Sambucol is a unique black elderberry extract rich in immune-supporting flavonoids — powerful, natural antioxidants that are thought to work to protect the body’s cells from the potential damage caused by free radicals. According to the Department of Agriculture, the highest concentration of anthocyanins is found in black elderberries.
Lifelab’s Honey Business
Lifelab Health is launching a USDA Organic honey line called Honey Works, featuring SKUs for both cough syrup and a metered-dose throat spray for children and adults. Lifelab Health said consumer focus groups found that people sick with a cold seek natural remedies first, and the company identified a need gap in the lack of a natural alternative to a medicated throat spray. Lifelab Health is planning a robust marketing campaign in time for the 2018-19 season that will range from digital placement to television commercials highlighting the brand tagline: “Don’t forget your Honey!” Suggested retail price for the Organic Honey Works sprays will be $5.99, while the syrups will retail for a suggested $8.99.
Boiron Speeds Up Sore Throat Relief
Launched in Spring 2017, Boiron’s ThroatCalm relieves sore throat pain instead of merely numbing it with such ingredients as benzocaine. Company officials said that ThroatCalm’s quick-dissolve tablet delivery system also appeals to sore throat sufferers who may have difficulty swallowing. Boiron’s red packaging strengthens the connection with a red and sore throat, and the name helps create a brand block along with Boiron’s cold medicine, ColdCalm, the company said.
Cough-cold traffic gets boost amid strong flu season
Expect more shoppers sniffling in your stores. While this year is not the worst flu season in the past decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared during a press conference at the top of the year that it is a doozy — and it’s far from over. High flu incidence is translating into serious traffic in the cough-cold aisle — with manufacturers like the CDC finding a lot of potential for sustained activity.
“Across the country, we’ve noticed this is a busier cold and flu season than we’ve seen in several years,” James Masterson, marketing director for respiratory and pain at GSK Consumer Healthcare, said. “To monitor the impact of cold and flu on consumers, the Theraflu team created a tool that uses social sentiment as an early predictor of the severity of the season. The current velocity of consumer cold and flu sentiment online could indicate
that this season is far from over, and could last throughout January and February at a very high rate.”
In fact, industry observers said that consumption in the cough-cold segment has been among the strongest in the past decade. And, while that may be bad news for consumers suffering from the flu and colds, it could be great news for retailers and suppliers looking to cash in on their misery.
“The Northern Hemisphere is mirroring flu activities recently seen in the Southern Hemisphere’s last season,” said Gary Wittenberg, vice president of national accounts at Boiron, a French company with U.S. headquarters in Newtown Square, Pa. “Australia’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System reported more than two-and-a-half times more flu cases compared to their last season.”
The biggest winner of this year’s high rate of illness may be those suppliers providing a mucus relief solution, according to Hyland’s president Les Hamilton, who said that the Los Angeles-based homeopathic remedy company’s mucus products have seen high interest.
“Mucus, grape flavor, value packs and nighttime are all trending right now, and not necessarily in that order,” he said. “Our mucus products have been doing very well, [and] we are bringing out value packs next cough/cold season in the baby category. To sleep when you are sick is so key, so offering a nighttime, mucus relief product for kids and babies not only [allows] them sleep, but [lets] mom and dad sleep.”
Beyond mucus, retailers can help optimize sales during the season by adding alternative delivery formats into the mix. Suppliers said that consumers in cough-cold are beginning to demand a delivery method that has invigorated the VMS category — gummies.
“Delivery system is playing a bigger and bigger part,” said Kimberly Weld, vice president at San Diego-based Pharmacare US. “People are busy and on the move, and the delivery systems need to fit their lifestyle. That’s a key reason our Sambucol Gummies have grown so quickly. We pride ourselves in not line-extending beyond what is meaningful
and useful to the consumer.”
Similarly, this season Matrixx Initiatives launched its Zicam Medicated Fruit Drops. “At Zicam, we are always looking for ways to show our consumers that we are there for them,” said M’lou Walker, CEO at the Bridgewater, N.J.-based company. “With our new Medicated Fruit Drops, we hope to bring a delectable mix of flavor into cold shortening, while making a difference in people’s lives.”
Innovative offerings, coupled with a genuine need as flu season rages, is presenting a boom time for cough-cold manufacturers. And though the CDC noted that this flu season has already peaked, the agency said there could be a resurgence in late winter. This means suppliers will have to be nimble enough to meet consumer needs as they change.
“By all measures, this is turning out to be a pretty significant cold flu season,” Phil McWaters, brand director for Vicks at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, said. “The question from here out is how quickly incidence and consumption decline. Some years we see a second spike in March and in others it’s a steady decline through the summer. We really don’t know what to expect, but are preparing for both.”