HEALTH

Flu hospitalizations highest this decade, CDC reports

BY Michael Johnsen

There has been little abatement in the flu season this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday morning. The CDC added that illness related to influenza-like activity climbed to 7.1% nationwide and hospitalizations related to the flu has been the highest recorded this decade.

“This is a very difficult season, the hospitalization rate is the highest that we’ve seen,” Anne Schuchat, CDC acting director, said. “We aren’t out of the woods yet, but there are steps everyone can take to fight the flu.”

Schuchat advised parents to be pro-active in taking their children to the pediatrician if they being monitoring one of several “worrisome” signs. “It’s so important for people to speak to their healthcare provider about their child, but in general worrisome signs are very high, persistent fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, rapid heart beat or shallow rapid breathing or significant tiredness or confusion,” she said. “In very young children, those kinds of symptoms are going to be difficult to assess. We really do think a call to the pediatrician or the nurse hotline is very important.”

The virulent season this year has certainly caught the industry off guard with reports of spot shortages of the anti-viral Tamiflu and flu tests. “We continue to hear reports of crowded hospitals and sport shortages of antiviral medications and rapid influenza tests,” Schuchat said. “Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate that flu activity is still high and widespread across of the nation and increasing overall.”

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday warned of continued shortages of IV saline bags that’s being exasperated by the high hospitalizations associated with this year’s flu. “We recognize that managing the thousands of flu-related hospitalizations has increased the demand for certain saline products – which are commonly used to both hydrate and deliver medications via intravenous routes,” Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner, said in a release issued Thursday. “As we’ve shared over the past several months, across the country, there remains a shortage of IV saline bags, which have long faced supply issues. These supply issues were worsened by the impact of Hurricane Maria on the medical products manufacturing sector in Puerto Rico, which impacted small volume IV bags. Although the saline shortage is improving, this year’s worse-than-normal flu season and workarounds deployed by health care providers in the wake of this shortage have increased demand for saline and other products.”

In light of widespread reports that this year’s flu vaccines are not matching well with the prevalent H3N2 strain this year, the CDC is still recommending people get their flu shot this year if they have not done so already. “Even though we know most flu vaccines have low effectiveness against H3N2 viruses [the strain that’s predominant this season], effectiveness against other flu viruses is better and there is more than just one flu virus circulating this season,” Schuchat said. “The vaccine may also reduce the severity of symptoms if you catch the flu in spite of being vaccinated. And it’s not too late to get the vaccine.”

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