Flu season gets off to a sluggish start

Where is this year's flu outbreak? In the wake of the H1N1 drama of a couple of years back, the virus seems to be laying low in the U.S. this season. But don't let your guard down: Flu activity could increase in February, warns the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to an article in HealthDay.

The first week of the year saw a slight uptick in flu activity, but it was still at low levels, the news service notes. Colorado and New Hampshire saw slightly higher rates of flu than other states, but not by much, according to CDC data.

CDC leaders are advising against complacency, and strongly recommending vaccination. "The bottom line is that vaccination continues to be the single most important thing people can do to protect themselves from flu," the center's Tom Skinner said. And this message perhaps has resonated; increased vaccination rates could be the reason flu rates are so low this year, says Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Over the last few years, the flu vaccine market has been growing at a fast clip, driven by fears of an H1N1 pandemic, as Research and Markets notes in a release. Last year, however, the H1N1 pandemic flu vaccine market declined due to the perceived waning threat. Still, the seasonal influenza vaccine market is predicted to grow and exceed $4 billion by 2015, and developing nations promise to be top customers.

Separately, a team of researchers say the La Niña weather pattern could play a role in the pandemics. Authors Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University and Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health say La Niña can affect the migratory patterns of birds, and those altered patterns promote the development of dangerous new flu strains. Their work has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

- get the Research and Markets release
- check the news from Columbia
- see the HealthDay story