Healthcare News & Insights

CDC warns flu outbreak’s picking up nationwide

Unless you never watch TV, listen to a radio or go on the Internet, you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is predicting that this flu season is going to be a bad one. Not only has it started early, but influenza activity is increasing at a rapid pace with much of the U.S. now experiencing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI). Is your hospital ready for it?

The CDC tracks influenza activity year-round and publishes a report weekly on Fridays. And the number of people seeing their doctors for ILI has elevated for four consecutive weeks, climbing sharply from 2.8% to 5.6% during that time. In comparison, the last flu season, which was relatively mild, peaked at 2.2%.

“While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza, and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations,” said Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch in CDC’s influenza division.

And unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Basd on past experience, the CDC believes the flu activity will continue for some time. During the past 10 flu seasons, ILI was at or above baseline for an average of 12 weeks.

The CDC is also reporting that 29 states and New York City are reporting high levels of ILI, nine states are reporting moderate levels and 10 states are still reporting low levels of ILI.

Hospitalizations

The CDC collects flu-related data from 15 states to calculate a rate of laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations. Currently, cumulative influenza hospitalization rates are 8.1 per 100,000 people. And according to Dr. Bresee, that’s high for this time of year.

The predominant type of influenza that’s out and circulating is A (H3N2) virus. It accounts for approximately 76% of the viruses reported. Unfortunately, H3N2 flu seasons have typically been more severe, with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, noted Dr. Bresee.

The good news is the vaccine that is out for the 2012-2013 season, closely matches (91%) the influenza viruses that have been analyzed at the CDC. This type of match between the virus and the vaccine is one factor that impacts the effectiveness of the vaccine.

One hospital’s attempt to contain spread of influenza

Lehigh Valley Hospital’s Cedar Crest campus is taking action when it comes to the flu by diagnosing and treating potential flu patients faster.

People who come to the facility’s emergency room (ER) are screened for the flu. Once it’s determined that they have flu-like symptoms, they’re escorted down a short walkway to heated tents where they are diagnosed in temporary clinics.

“It’s specifically for flu and any other person that we can very quickly get in and out of the system to avoid any contact with sicker patients within the hospital system and within our waiting room,” said Dr. David Burmeister, chairman of the hospital’s emergency room, in a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre news report.

Due to the high number of cases the hospital was seeing, executives decided to set up the tents to treat flu cases more efficiently. It also keeps patients, who are potentially contagious away from an entire waiting room of people.

And people in the area are very appreciative of the hospital’s efforts to be proactive.

The tents are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and will remain so for as long as they are needed.

Are you doing anything special to prevent the spread of the influenza virus at your facility?

 

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