WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' self-reports of the flu spiked early this season, rising in December to levels typically not seen until February. An average of 3.2% of Americans reported having the flu the day before they were surveyed in December. This is higher than what Gallup found in the same month in any past year since it started tracking flu daily in 2008.
Self-reports of the flu peaked in February in three of the last four flu seasons -- with an average of 3.3% saying they had the flu "yesterday" in the 2008-2009 and the 2010-2011 seasons, and an average of 3.0% reporting having the flu "yesterday" in the 2011-2012 season. The only time this pattern did not occur was during the 2009-2010 season, when the flu peaked in October amid the outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus. This early rise in Americans' self-reports of the flu in December suggests that the peak of the 2012-2013 flu season may be worse than the previous four seasons.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks clinically confirmed influenza through collaborating laboratories in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, has reported similar trends. The CDC announced that the percentage of people visiting their healthcare provider for flu-like illnesses significantly increased to 5.6% in the last week of December, up from 2.8% during the first week of the month.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index asks 1,000 Americans each day whether they had a cold or the flu "yesterday." It is possible that the average of daily cold and flu prevalence is underestimated because those who were sick the day before may be less likely to respond to a phone survey than those who were not sick. Still, the opportunity for year-over-year comparisons with data from previous cold and flu seasons provides useful insights into their respective changes over time.
Unlike the percentage of daily flu reports, the percentage of daily cold reports in December is on par with levels from December of past years. More Americans report having a cold than the flu -- with 9.9% reporting having a cold the day prior to being interviewed in December, up from 7.5% in November.
Flu, Cold Rates Highest Among Hispanics and Those With Lower Incomes, as Is Typical
Hispanics, as is usually the case, were by far the most likely to report having the flu (9.2%) or a cold (12.0%) on any given day in December. Low-income Americans -- along with smokers and those with asthma -- also reported among the highest flu and cold rates in the country last month.
Americans aged 30 to 44 were the age group most likely to report the flu in December. This is atypical, as reports of the flu generally decline with age, with those aged 18 to 29 usually reporting the most cases.
Women were slightly more likely than men to report having these illnesses in December.
Daily reports of the flu were highest in the East and West, while reports of colds were highest in the East and South.
After typical levels in the early months of the flu season, Americans' average daily reports of the flu sharply increased in December, exceeding rates found in the same month in previous years. Americans' self-reports of the flu this December match levels typically seen during the peak of flu season in January and February.
The mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency after the city experienced a surge in the number flu cases, and the national media is covering this flu season extensively. The recent increase in publicity surrounding higher-than-average flu levels may encourage more Americans to get the flu vaccine, practice healthy behaviors, and stay home when they suspect they have the flu. These actions could prevent further spikes in reports of the flu and colds in the typical peak months and reduce the severity of the influenza virus for those who are most at risk. Gallup will continue to track self-reported cold and flu cases throughout the 2012-2013 season.
About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks wellbeing in the U.S. and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index survey Dec. 1-31, 2012, with a random sample of 27,300 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, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cellphone-only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.