Influenza Hospitalizations Highest on Record, Flu Reminders For Staff
Written by Editor   
Thursday, February 15, 2018 09:29 AM

Overall hospitalizations for influenza-like illness (ILI) are at their highest since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began collecting such data. 

"In the past week, we have seen increased [ILI] activity, more hospitalizations, and tragically, more flu-associated deaths in children and adults," the acting director, CDC, said. "As of this week, overall hospitalizations are now the highest we've seen, even higher than in 2014-2015, our previous high season. Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate that flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation. This is an unusual pattern for flu in the [United States]."

The percentage of patients seen in physicians' offices, urgent care clinics, and emergency departments for ILI increased again this week, going from 6.6% last week to 7.1% this week. For two seasons during the past 16 years rates, have been higher than that — the 2009 H1N1 pandemic peaked at 7.7%, and the 2003-2004 season, which was a high-severity H3N2 season, peaked at 7.6%.  

The level of ILI activity has been elevated for 10 consecutive weeks. During the past five seasons, the average duration of an influenza season has been 16 weeks, ranging from 11 to 20 weeks.  The number of states that reported high ILI activity this week rose from 39 to 42. In the western states, activity is starting to decrease, the eastern part of the country is seeing higher activity, and southern states continue to report high activity, with levels similar to those of previous weeks.

Below are some friendly reminders, tips, and tricks to keeping yourself and your patients healthy and safe this flu season and beyond.

  • Keep yourself as healthy as possible. Try to boost your immune system by eating nutritious foods, including fruits and vegetables; staying hydrated; and getting exercise and sleep. Staying well rested and well hydrated can help keep your immune system in good shape to combat this flu season.
  • Hand hygiene is the most effective way to stop the transmission of the flu. Flu spreads via droplets coughed or sneezed by infected persons onto shared surfaces. Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently and using alcohol-based gel sanitizers is an effective way to prevent flu. But one thing we often forget about is our patients' hands. Ask patients and their visitors to use hand sanitizer before triage and before they enter patient rooms as well.
  • Mask yourself, mask your patients. If you suspect someone has the flu, you should immediately begin droplet precautions. Place a mask on the patient or when keep yourself protected with a mask and gloves at all times. Remind patients to cover their coughs to help keep others safe.
  • If you have flu symptoms, you should stay home from work. The best thing you can do for yourself, your patients, and your colleagues when feeling ill is to stay home. This doesn't just help you get better faster, but it also prevents you from endangering your fellow workers. 
  • You should feel empowered to communicate with visitors about the flu. It is imperative to educate family members and patient visitors about their role in flu prevention.  Resort to basic teaching. Effective discharge teaching can help prevent repeat visits to the doctor's office or ER and can help patients stay healthy. Remind patients that the best place for them to be if they are feeling sick is at home. Most people who get the flu will have a mild illness that does not require hospitalization. Fluids, rest, and over-the-counter antipyretics are effective in treating most cases of illness. People with suspected flu should stay home until at least 24 hours after their fever has gone away. Emergency symptoms that require immediate evaluation in an ER include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, sudden dizziness or confusion, severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea, or pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen. In children or infants, watch for signs of dehydration, fast breathing, lethargy, and rash.
  • Tamiflu is not for everyone. Most cases of the flu do not require treatment with an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu. Clinical judgment will determine whether a patient fits the criteria for treatment with antivirals. In most cases, treatment is most effective if given within 48 hours of symptom onset.