A fascinating story in Scientific American says the length of the flu season may vary depending on where you live, with large cities enduring longer periods of transmission and smaller cities experiencing shorter, but more explosive, spread, citing a new study.
The study doesn’t assert that one’s risk of contracting influenza varies depending on the size of any given community. Rather, it argues that in less populous places, flu needs the right atmospheric conditions to spread effectively. In large cities, those conditions don’t matter quite as much.
If we sound like a broken record, always talking about flu, there’s a good reason for that; an estimated 80,000 Americans died from the flu last year, more than double the normal amount. If you go to a college football game this (or any) weekend, chances are there will be about that number of people in the stands. Take a good look at the crowd, and imagine all of those souls lost to an illness that is mostly avoidable.
We put our toe in the public health pond more than a decade ago when we were part of a group of business continuity geeks who wanted to limit the likelihood of a pandemic doing serious harm to our companies, our communities and our families. Our work since then has dealt with supporting public health departments to be better prepared for everything that can do harm to their constituents, whether it’s pandemic, bio-terror or radiological releases.
All of which affects healthcare providers who must work hard to comply with the CMS emergency preparedness rule to prepare themselves to deal with anything that could hurt their patients, employees and economic futures.
The Scientific American story quotes lead author Benjamin Dalzeil saying why large cities may be more likely to allow for the spread of flu: “If there’s lots of people and transportation patterns frequently bring them together, it helps the virus find new hosts even when climate conditions aren’t at their most favorable,” he said.
The finding suggests a one-size-fits-all approach to flu season preparedness won’t work. If the study is correct, small centers should work on surge capacity—their ability to handle a lot of sick people over a short period of time—while larger cities should find ways to reduce transmission, said Jacco Wallinga, an expert on infectious diseases modeling at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands.
Healthcare coalitions across the nation are being tasked with exercising hospital surge capacity next year, a demand that seems even more prescient than before.“This is important for policymakers because it indicates that metropolitan areas should focus on reducing influenza spread, whereas small towns should focus on reducing harm,” Wallinga wrote in a commentary on the paper, which was published alongside it Thursday in the journal Science.
Influenza is famously unpredictable. It’s not uncommon to hear people who have studied it for decades describe the virus as “humbling.”