A new tool for identifying onset of local influenza outbreaks

Predicting the beginning of influenza outbreaks is notoriously difficult, and can affect prevention and control efforts. Now, just in time for flu season, biostatistician Nicholas Reich of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and colleagues at Johns Hopkins have devised a simple yet accurate method for hospitals and public health departments to determine the onset of elevated influenza activity at the community level.

Hospital epidemiologists and others responsible for public health decisions do not declare the start of flu season lightly, Reich explains. In hospitals, a declaration that flu season has started comes with many extra precautions and procedures such as added gloves, masks and gowns, donning and doffing time, special decontamination procedures, increased surveillance and reduced visitor access, for example.