The Seattle Flu Study: Mapping the Spread of Influenza


Helen Chu, MD, MPH, discussed the "Seattle Flu Study" with Contagion at IDWeek 2019.

Segment Description: Helen Chu, MD, MPH, assistant professor at the University of Washington, discussed the "Seattle Flu Study" with Contagion at IDWeek 2019.

Interview transcript: (modified slightly for readability)

Contagion®: What was the impetus for this study?

Dr. Chu: The impetus for the Seattle flu study was to develop a system to understand how flu would enter and spread within a city. Traditionally, we rely on the hospital to give us answers for when the flu season starts, [because] often the people who go to the hospital are people who are elderly or very young, and they're not often the first people who get sick. So we think that that people actually get sick first and probably spread it within the community are not in the hospital and if we did community-wide surveillance, we might be able to understand how flu enters the city and spreads before it hits the hospital system.

Contagion®: What are some of the benefits for clinicians of having a model for how flu enters and spreads in a population?

Dr. Chu: I think one of the key benefits is to be able to prepare for the flu season. When flu season starts, it often overwhelms the hospital infrastructure and often overwhelms pediatrician's offices. Everybody shows up at the same time, you suddenly need to have a lot of doses of antivirals ready to give. This would provide a system where we would know early. We would give you about 2 to 3 weeks notice ahead of time that something was happening in order to prepare for it.

Contagion®: Can you speak to the feasibility of implementing city-wide, community-based surveillance systems like this nationwide?

Dr. Chu: The Seattle flu study was designed to really understand how the flu entered and spread in any metropolitan area. The goal was that this would be able to be extrapolated to any city around the world for flu surveillance. I think what it requires is strong partnerships in the community. We work very closely with groups including the airport, workplaces, and childcare centers, and homeless shelters in Seattle. And we implemented community surveillance systems at all of these sites. I think that requires a lot of communication and education and a lot of time spent answering questions of the community to make sure that what we're doing is appropriate and acceptable to those out there who are actually going to be seeing the first case of flu.

The study, The Seattle Flu Study: A Community-Based Study of Influenza, was presented as a late breaking oral abstract on Saturday, October 5, 2019, at IDWeek 2019 in Washington, DC.

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