The Google Flu Chart That's Blowing Everyone's Mind

This year, flu season is hitting hard. The latest data show that influenza cases are up 31.6 per cent from last year.

The thick blue line below shows the volume of Google searches for influenza-related terms this year – a good coincident indicator of flu activity – which is sharply above any other year in recent memory:

Google flu trends

Photo: Google

Analysts are predicting it will only get worse. Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig writes in a note to clients that “the flu season is off to an early start this season, and the CDC is projecting the worst season in 10 years.”

That doesn’t sound encouraging, but Weinswig says it will be good for drug stores, who should see their same-store-sales numbers rise. BofA Merrill Lynch analyst Kevin Fishbeck says hospital stocks should get a bit of a boost as well.

The chart below from Fishbeck shows the early spike in flu-related hospital visits this year in comparison to past years:

flu related hospital visits

And it doesn’t seem like anyone expects the surge to relent very soon. Jefferies analyst David Windley wrote, “In short, we are seeing an increase in activity with no signs of moderation yet,” and continued, “If we take the CDC’s rule of thumb that flu season typically peaks in January or February, it seems likely to us that this season will be markedly worse than either of the last two years, and may reach the level of the 2007-2008 season.”

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