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Consumer Health Impact of Seasonal Influenza in Western Europe and the US

September 21st, 2017

Seasonal influenza has a significant impact on the sales of consumer health products, particularly in years when the influenza vaccine is a poor match to the circulating strain(s), making it less effective in preventing infection. Consumers turn to a number of products during flu season, including vitamins and dietary supplements for prevention, combination cough, cold and allergy (CCAs) remedies and nasal sprays for fever and cough, and tissue products for nasal congestion.

In order to better understand the consumer health impact of season influenza in Western Europe and the US, Euromonitor examines trends in the types of products chosen by consumers to prevent and treat flu, and how sales in these products fluctuate in response to severity of illness across markets.

 Western Europe Influenza vaccine matching circulating strain(s) helps determine market impact of flu season Movement away from synthetic OTC products can be reversed during a severe flu season Sales of preventative products also increase during severe flu seasons Consumers in different markets prefer different OTC products when they are sick US Determining the severity of flu season – and OTC sales impact – relies on vaccine’s match to strain(s) Approximately 62% of US consumers consider an annual flu vaccination as necessary for their health Consumers have products they consider “must haves” for flu season, with women finding more products essential than men Consumers prefer combination cough/cold products that can address multiple symptoms

Epidemiological factors that affect the severity of an individual flu season

Four main factors contribute to making a flu season more or less severe for consumers, including the availability and utilization of the flu vaccine (as well as the type of vaccine available), how closely the vaccine matches the circulating strain(s), the timing and length of the flu season and population demographics, with young children and the elderly more at risk for infection than healthy adults. Additionally, governments in Western Europe and the US take very different approaches to managing the flu season, in terms of how and where the vaccine is offered, and for which populations it is recommended.

The types of products preferred by consumers in different markets

Sales of cough, cold, and allergy products, as well as natural preventive products such as echinacea, Vitamins C and D and ginseng, vary widely between markets, even between countries with similar epidemiological profiles. And, as lozenges are preferred in some markets and combination products in another, sales of these particular products are affected to a greater or lesser degree by the severity of the flu season. There are demographic differences, as well: for example, in the US, more women list OTC flu products as “must haves” for the flu season, while men tend to see OTC products as less important for managing their symptoms.

What can this tell us about future flu seasons?

Knowing that an association exists between vaccine match, severity of a flu season and the types of products whose sales are likely to be affected in different markets allows us to create a blueprint of how these products’ sales are likely to increase or decrease in future flu seasons – since consumers have a rough idea of how closely the flu vaccine will match the circulating strain before the flu season actually starts, both consumers and manufacturers have the ability to use this information to make predictions about the upcoming flu season.

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Keena Roberts

In her role as Consumer Health Analyst, Keena Roberts has direct responsibility for the OTC research within Euromonitor’s Consumer Health Team, and manages both global and company reports relating to analgesic, cough, cold, and flu (CCA), and allergy medications among many others. Before joining Euromonitor, Keena completed a dual Master’s program in International Health and International Development Economics at Johns Hopkins University.

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