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Influenza's peaks take an easterly route across the U.S.

April 16, 2010 |  3:22 pm

Flushot The flu may move its victims -- to stay in bed, to resolve to get a flu shot next year, to curse the (probably young and sniffly) family member who gave it to them  -- but it also moves, in a way, itself. From west to east, to be exact.

Researchers have known that flu season traditionally occurs in winter, and from year to year they've had a pretty good idea of which strains will be dominant. But predicting the path of illness has been difficult. So researchers at Tufts University attempted to establish a pattern for flu outbreaks' timing and intensity.

They analyzed older adults' hospitalization records for the 1991 through 2004 flu seasons. (This means the new H1N1 strain was not part of the equation.) And they found that flu seasons typically peaked first in the Western states and later in Eastern states. Nevada, Utah and California led the way; Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine wrapped things up.

So, you may ask? It's all about prevention, the researchers say.

Or as they put it: "Understanding the geographical patterns of influenza spread and utilizing multiple parameters for predictive modeling are essential for guiding prevention efforts."

Here's the full study of flu movement, published Thursday in PLoS One. (Don't forget to check out the map.)

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: This year's seasonal flu shot will target the new H1N1 strain and two other strains.

Credit: Bloomberg