Though it’s difficult to build a comprehensive picture of flu trends across the globe, reports suggest that January 2018 has seen a spike in flu activity in North America and Europe. In its full-year 2017 results, J&J also cited growth for its upper respiratory category as one of the trends underpinning a 3.7% rise (+2.6% organically) for its OTC division in 2017. This included strong Q4 growth for its CCA brands in the Asia-Pacific region, suggesting that cold & flu activity is robust across the northern hemisphere.
According to reports, the US is in the grip of its strongest cough, cold & flu season for almost a decade. In mid-January, Brenda Fitzgerald, Director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said: “We are currently in the midst of a very active flu season. With much of the country experiencing widespread and intense flu activity … so far this season, influenza A, H3N2, has been the most common form of influenza. These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older. When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have a worse flu season with more hospitalizations and more deaths. While our surveillance systems show that nationally the flu season may be peaking now, we know from past experience that it will take many more weeks for flu activity to truly slow down.”
As the chart above shows, the percentage of US patients visiting their doctor with ILI (influenza-like illness) has peaked sharply in late 2017 / early 2018, reaching levels not seen since the 2009-10 flu season. Similarly, in the UK, reports suggest this has been the worst flu season for seven years – since the 2010-11 swine flu epidemic – with doctors visits for suspected flu rising sharply in certain parts of the country (in Wales, they recorded a fourfold increase to 64.9 cases per 100,000).
As we make our way through Q4 2017 results season, we’ll keep a close eye on how this spike in flu activity is reflected in the CCA performance of various OTC marketers, though it may be that we have to wait until the Q1 2018 results come in to see the full effect of this trend.