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Swine Flu Season Arrives Are Online Consumers Paying Attention
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Swine Flu Season Arrives Are Online Consumers Paying Attention

Sue MacDonald, Research Manager, The Nielsen Company

The 2009 flu season is fast approaching (or has already arrived) and this year, swine flu is expected to figure prominently, but online consumers aren’t yet paying attention.

In fact, online discussions about the swine flu have held relatively steady since a spike in April, when federal and world health officials first warned of the spread of H1N1 or “swine flu.” Even now, amid news that 97% of early September’s flu cases were related to the H1N1 virus and as recommendations roll out about swine flu vaccines, Internet buzz a about the phenomenon remains at less than .5% of all online discussions, down from a peak of 2.5% of all buzz in April, according to Nielsen’s BuzzMetrics service.

SwineFluChart2.Ap-Sept09

The U.S Centers for Disease Control’s weekly FluView report (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/) notes that more than 90% of flu cases currently being reported are H1N1 cases, though the total H1N1 diagnoses per week has dropped over the past two months. The 2009-10 flu season officially begins Oct. 4.

Slight increases in Internet discussion occurred in late August and early September, fueled by flu outbreaks on college campuses and in schools, warnings about possible business absenteeism this flu season, and ongoing news about the swine flu vaccine – including continued tests of the vaccine, news about vaccine availability and production rate, and even by skepticism about safety of the vaccine and confusion about vaccine recommendations for children.

“We saw really significant volume of discussion about H1N1 after the first alerts were issued in April, and although buzz is relatively low now, I expect that we will continue to see the discussion pick up over the next several weeks,” says Melissa Davies, research director of Nielsen’s healthcare practice. “We may see a convergence of events driving this – with school back in session, the start of traditional flu season, and the H1N1 vaccine becoming available later this fall, people will be hungry for good information about swine flu and how to keep themselves and their families safe.”