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Sunday, September 7, 2014

CDC Holds “Predict the Influenza Season Challenge” to Forecast Seasonal Flu Activity -- But You Still Need to Get Your Flu Shot!

Flu season can begin as early as October and last through the month of May. Typically, the flu season in the U.S. peaks around January or February, according to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control. Although it is impossible to predict what each flu season will bring, CDC ran a “Predict the Influenza Season Challenge” in November 2013 to encourage the use of digital data sources, including data from social media sites and Internet search engines, to predict flu activity more accurately.

As a result, a first prize of $75,000 was awarded to Dr. Jeffrey Shaman and his team at the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The challenge was to merge digital data into a mathematical model that would produce accurate and reliable forecasts, much like what has been done for years in predicting weather forecasts. CDC hopes the use of digital data will improve the science of flu forecasting.

How CDC predicts flu seasons

Currently, it is impossible to predict what any flu season will be like because the nature of flu activity is unpredictable. CDC collects and analyzes information on flu activity in the U.S. throughout the year to predict what each flu season might bring. They cannot, however, predict changes in influenza viruses and the emergence of new virus strains.

DCD continues to recommend flu vaccinations

The best way to protect yourself against flu viruses is to get a flu shot every year. The CDC recommends getting your flu shots by October. It will provide protection against the top three or four most common flu viruses that are responsible for most illnesses during the flu season.

For more information on flu viruses and vaccinations, visit

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