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U.S. Flu Reports Decline in January

U.S. Flu Reports Decline in January

by Rebecca Riffkin
U.S. Flu Reports Decline in January

Story Highlights

  • Flu reports dropped to 3.3% in Jan. from 4.0% in Dec.
  • Flu reports typical for month of January
  • Highest since '08, 11.9% reported having a cold on any given day

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The 2014-2015 U.S. flu season may have peaked early. In January 2015, an average of 3.3% of Americans reported they "were sick with the flu yesterday." This is down from 4.0% in December, the highest rate in any December since Gallup began tracking the flu daily in 2008. Average flu reports in January are also lower than in January 2013 and January 2014.

Percentage of Americans Sick With the Flu

The percentage of Americans sick with the flu on any given day in January 2015 is fairly typical, with Januaries averaging 3.3% between 2009 and 2014. In most years, the flu peaks in January or February. However, this year's flu reports declined in January, indicating that the flu season may have peaked early.

Cold Reports in January on Par With December

While the flu reports are declining, reports of colds remain high. The percentage of Americans who reported being sick with a cold on the day prior to being interviewed was 11.9% in January, similar to 11.6% in December 2014. This is the highest monthly average since Gallup began measuring daily incidence of colds in 2008, topping the peaks found in prior Januaries and Februaries.

Percentage of Americans Sick With a Cold

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index asks Americans each day whether they were sick with the flu or a cold "yesterday." It is possible that Gallup's measures of daily cold and flu underestimate the true infection rate because those who were sick the day before may be less likely to respond to a phone survey than those who were not sick. Additionally, it may be difficult for people to accurately self-diagnose the medical distinction between the flu and a cold, given the similarity in the symptoms of both conditions. Still, year-over-year and month-over- month comparisons of these data provide useful information about the relative prevalence of flu and colds in the U.S. population.

Gallup's flu measure differs from the U.S. Centers from Disease Control and Prevention's measure, which uses influenza infections reported by doctors and hospitals. Gallup's data continue to positively correlate with the CDC's data, which show that the number of positive influenza tests decreased from their peak the last week of December.

Bottom Line

Americans' self-reports of being sick with the flu decreased from December and are on par with the average for the month of January, suggesting that the 2014-2015 flu season peaked earlier than usual. Many feared this flu season would be particularly severe because the flu vaccine released in 2014 was less effective than in previous years. Americans' reports of being sick with a cold, however, remain high compared with previous Januaries.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 2-31, 2015, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, with a random sample of 1,529 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index works.

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